Lyme disease is caused by an infection with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where the disease was first identified in 1975. In Georgia, B. burgdorferi is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis).
When an infected tick bites a human, it transfers the bacteria into the bloodstream. The infection typically progresses in stages, and the symptoms can vary widely from person to person.
The most common early sign of Lyme disease is a skin rash called "erythema migrans (EM)." It begins as a reddened area near the tick bite. As the rash increases in size, it often clears in the middle and develops a red ring around the outside, commonly called a “bull's eye” rash. It's important to note that an EM rash may not always be present or look like a bullseye.
As the infection spreads, symptoms may include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, and general malaise. If left untreated, Lyme disease can progress to more severe symptoms affecting various body systems, including the nervous system, joints, heart, and skin. These advanced-stage symptoms may include severe headaches, neck stiffness, facial paralysis (Bell's palsy), joint inflammation, memory problems, heart palpitations, and even cognitive difficulties.
Diagnosing Lyme disease can be challenging because its symptoms can mimic those of other conditions, and not all patients recall being bitten by a tick. Medical professionals often rely on a combination of clinical symptoms, medical history, and laboratory tests to make an accurate diagnosis.
The standard treatment for Lyme disease involves a course of antibiotics, usually taken orally. The specific antibiotic and duration of treatment depend on the stage of the disease and the individual's health. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are crucial to prevent the infection from progressing to more severe stages.
The best way to prevent tickborne diseases, including Lyme disease, is to prevent tick bites.
It's important to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect you have been bitten by a tick or are experiencing symptoms consistent with Lyme disease. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.
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Page last updated 5/23/23