Signs and symptoms: Everything you need to know about Lyme disease
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that’s transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick.
Symptoms can occur anywhere from three to 30 days after the bite, and symptoms can be wide-ranging, depending on the stage of the infection.
The chances that you or your little one might get Lyme disease from a tick bite depends on the kind of tick, where you were when the bite occurred, and how long the tick was attached to you.
Black-legged ticks must be attached to the body for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease.
What are the symptoms?
Early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
As the infection progresses, symptoms can include:
- Severe headache or neck stiffness
- Additional rashes on other areas of the body
- Severe joint pain and swelling, particularly in the knees
- Loss of muscle tone or “drooping” on one or both sides of the face.
- Heart palpitation or an irregular heartbeat
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
How do you know if you’ve been bitten?
Ticks are the size of a poppy seed, so you’ve got to have pretty good eyes to spot one. If you’ve been walking in the woods, in tall grass, or working in the garden, check your skin afterward, ideally in the shower or bath. That way, you’ve removed your clothes, which may carry ticks, too.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose Lyme disease based on symptoms and a history of tick exposure, and two-step blood tests can be helpful, if used correctly.
However, the accuracy of the test depends on the disease stage; in the first few weeks of infection, the test may be negative, as antibodies take a few weeks to develop. Tests aren’t recommended for patients who don’t have Lyme disease symptoms.
How is Lyme disease treated?
The antibiotics amoxicillin and tetracycline are used, usually for 10-21 days, combat the disease, while some other antibiotics that may be used include cefuroxime and doxycycline.
If you're treated early in the infection stage, a full recovery is likely.
What’s the best way to prevent a tick bite?
Ticks can’t fly or jump, but instead live in shrubs and bushes, and grab onto someone when they pass by.
To avoid getting bitten, wear pants and socks in the woods, areas with lots of trees, and while handling fallen leaves. Wear a tick repellent on your skin and clothing that has DEET, lemon oil, or eucalyptus.