Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe. Deer ticks harbor the illness and spread it as the feed on the skin of animals and humans. A small percentage of deer tick bites actually lead to lyme disease. Most prevalent in the Northeastern part of the country, Lyme disease was named for an area in Connecticut with numerous cases of the illness.

You contract lyme disease when you receive an infected deer tick bite. The bacteria enter your body through the bite and then make their way to your bloodstream. To transmit the illness, a tick must be attached to your skin and feeding for an extensive time period. The longer a tick goes undiscovered, the greater the risk of Lyme disease. You cannot catch Lyme disease from another person.

There are three phases to the disease:

  • Early Localized Phase During this initial phase, the skin around the bite develops an expanding ring of redness. The ring may have a bull’s eye appearance with a bright red outer ring surrounding clear skin in the center. Most people don’t remember being bitten by a tick. More than one in four patients never gets a rash. The skin redness may be accompanied by fatigue, chills, muscle and joint stiffness, swollen lymph nodes and/or headaches.
  • Early Disseminated Phase Weeks to months after the rash disappears, the bacteria spread throughout the body, impacting the joints, heart and nervous system. Symptoms include migrating pain in the joints, neck ache, tingling or numbing of the extremities, enlarged lymph glands, sore throat, abnormal pulse, fever, changes in vision or fatigue.
  • Late Dissemination Phase Late in the dissemination of the disease, patients may experience inflammation of the heart, which can lead to heart failure. Nervous system issues develop, such as paralysis of facial muscles (Bell’s Palsy) and diseases of the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy). It is also common for arthritis and inflammation of the joints to appear, which cause swelling, stiffness and pain.


Because Lyme disease can affect different parts of the body, not all cases show symptoms in the same way. Generally though, signs of Lyme disease include:

  • Red, bulls-eye like rash
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and fatigue
  • Intense joint pain and swelling
  • Neurological concerns, especially in untreated cases

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a combination of a visual examination and a blood test for Lyme bacteria antibodies. Most cases of Lyme disease are curable using antibiotics, but the longer the delay, the more difficult it is to treat. Your dermatologist may prescribe medications to help alleviate joint stiffening.

The best form of prevention is to avoid tick bites, use an insect repellant with DEET, avoid heavily wooded grassy areas, and inspect pets and family members for ticks.

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