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Lyme Disease

An infection transmitted by ticks that causes a rash and flu-like symptoms

  • An outdoor lifestyle during summer is a risk factor in certain regions
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Named after Old Lyme, the North American town where the disease was first recognized, Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. The infection is transmitted to humans by ticks that usually live on deer. If a person is bitten by an infected tick that remains attached to his or her skin, bacteria can enter the blood-stream and may then spread throughout the body. A tick may be infected with more than one type of bacterium, and as a result a single bite may cause other, similar infections at the same time.

Although Lyme disease is most widely reported in the US, the infection is also a problem in the UK, particularly in areas of woodland or parkland where there are deer. People who go camping or walking in such areas during late spring/early summer are most at risk of being bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease bacteria.

What are the symptoms?

A bite from an infected tick usually produces a red lump with a scab on the skin, although some people who have been bitten may not notice this initial sign. Within 2 days to 4 weeks after the bite, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Spreading circular rash at the site of the bite that may clear in the centre.

  • Tiredness.

  • Flu-like chills and fever.

  • Headache and joint pains.

If the infection is left untreated, these symptoms may persist for several weeks. In some people who have Lyme disease, dangerous complications may develop up to 2 years later that may affect the heart, nervous system, and joints.

Lyme disease

A bite from a tick infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease typically produces an expanding circular red rash, as seen here on the thigh.

What might be done?

Your doctor may suspect from your symptoms that you have Lyme disease and may also arrange for a blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

If they are given prompt treatment with antibiotics, most people make a complete recovery. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs act as painkillers and can help to relieve joint pain and discomfort. Complications of Lyme disease are extremely rare.

In regions known to be tick-infested, you should wear clothes that cover your arms and legs to reduce the risk of being bitten (see Preventing tick bites) and immediately remove any ticks that you find attached to your skin. Use fine-pointed tweezers or your fingernails to pull the tick out but do not apply a hot match, alcohol, or any other substance to the tick in an attempt to remove it.

Self-help: Preventing Tick Bites

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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