Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is an infection caused by bacteria. The disease is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected ticks through their saliva. Usually, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria can spread. Most infections are caused by ticks in the nymphal stage, because they are very small and thus may feed for long periods of time undetected.
It is estimated to affect about 300,000 people a year in North America and 65,000 people a year in Europe. Infections are most common in the spring and early summer. Lyme disease was diagnosed as a separate condition for the first time in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut as it was originally mistaken for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
The most common sign of infection is an expanding area of redness that begins at the site of a tick bite about a week after it has occurred. The rash is usually neither itchy nor painful. The classic symptom at the site of the bite is a red inner spot surrounded by an outer red ring, looking like a bull’s eye pattern. Approximately 25–50% of infected people do not develop a rash. Other early symptoms may include fever, headache and a tired feeling. If left untreated some facial paralysis may occur, joint pain, severe headaches with neck stiffness or heart palpitations.
Months to years later, untreated or inadequately treated patients may develop repeated episodes of joint pain and swelling may occur. This late stage is where the infection has fully spread throughout the body. Occasionally, people develop shooting pains or tingling in their arms and legs. Despite appropriate treatment, about 10 to 20% of people develop joint pains, memory problems and feel tired, for at least six months.[i]
Early removal of the tick is most important as the risk of the bacterial infection is reduced if removed within 36 to 48 hours, before the bacteria in the tick travels into its saliva. The best method is to pull the tick straight out with tweezers as close to the skin as possible to make sure the head is not left in the skin. Do not twist or crush the body. If the tick is attached for less than 24 hours infection is unlikely, but because nymphal ticks are small they are often overlooked.
The Australian Society of clinical Immunology recommends against tweezers, but rather to kill the tick using a product that rapidly freezes the tick to prevent any more saliva being injected before removing it.
Depending on the individual affected and the stage of the disease, antibiotics are the primary treatment. A single dose of doxycycline within 72 hours after removal may reduce the risk of Lyme disease developing. It is not generally recommended however; as infection is rare if the tick is removed promptly. Doxycycline is not recommended for children under eight years of age or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Other antibiotics may also be used and the regimens may last from one to four weeks if joint swelling persists or returns.
Everyone should be especially careful when camping, hiking or gardening, especially if you live in a rural area where deer or sheep are nearby. Children and pets should be checked for ticks when they have been outdoors. Protective clothing includes a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants tucked into socks or boots. Light colored clothing makes the tick more easily visible before it attaches itself.[ii]
People who work in areas with woods, bushes, leaf litter and tall grass are at risk of becoming infected with Lyme at their work locations. Employers can reduce risk for employees by providing education on Lyme transmission and infection risk and about how to check themselves for ticks in the groin, armpits and hair. Work clothing used in risky areas should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer to kill any ticks.
Action can be taken to avoid getting bitten by ticks by using insect repellants, for example those that contain DEET or diethyltoluamide, the most common active ingredient in insect repellents. Permethrin sprayed on clothing kills ticks on contact and is sold for this purpose. However, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control); only DEET is effective at repelling ticks.[iii]
Prevention is also good to remember for your spine and nervous system, as regular visits to your chiropractor will keep you active, flexible and in good health.
[i] “Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease” cdc.gov. January 2013. Archived from the original on Jan 16/13. Retrieved Mar/15.
[ii] Wikipedia – Lyme Disease