Lyme, the most famous tick-borne disease, is becoming more common than it used to be, at least judging by health insurance data that includes Lyme diagnoses. Our friends at Gizmodo recently covered new data about the (sorry) uptick, which lines up roughly with CDC estimates. So what do you need to know to stay safe and healthy?
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme is caused by bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferiwhich is carried by black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis. This means that the disease can occur after a tick bite. In many cases (but not always) a bull’s-eye rash will develop around the tick bite.
Symptoms may include fever and chills and later other symptoms. Some of these include arthritis with joint pain and swelling, headaches, facial paralysis, heart palpitations, and tingling, numbness, or shooting pains in the hands and feet. The CDC has more details on symptoms here..
Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but some symptoms may persist even after treatment.
How can I prevent Lyme disease?
Preventing disease is primarily a matter of preventing tick bites. The main defenses here are DEET on your skin, permethrin on your clothes, and tick detection after you’ve been outdoors if you live in an area where Lyme disease is common. TTicks usually crawl on you for a while before biting you. so if you can find a hitchhiker before it sets, you can brush it off (or wash it down the shower drain) to prevent bite.
The ticks that carry Lyme disease don’t just attack humans; They also feed on the blood of deer, rabbits, mice, and other wildlife. (We have more information here at how ticks find you and bite youif you’re curious.)
Who can get Lyme?
lyme is most common in northeastern US, from West Virginia north to New England; and around the Great Lakes area, including Minnesota and Wisconsin. The ticks that carry the disease are spreading out from this area, so you can also get Lyme disease if you live in a nearby region or have recently traveled to an area where Lyme disease is endemic.
What is the treatment for Lyme disease?
The short answer is: antibiotics. Borrelia burgdorferi it is a bacteria, and it can be killed with a course of antibiotics, typically doxycycline. Depending on where you live and how common Lyme disease is, your provider may want to test you for Lyme disease before prescribing treatment, or they may assume you have it and just write a prescription to be sure. Not all tick bites cause Lyme disease.
Symptoms can sometimes persist after treatment, in what the CDC calls post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS). The bacteria are gone, but they may have triggered an autoimmune response that is still ongoing, leading to ongoing pain, fatigue, and mental fogginess. That’s what seems to happen, anyway; the syndrome is not yet well understood.
Is Lyme disease a gift from the universe?
Recently a podcast clip has been circulating in which two influencers discuss the idea that Lyme disease is of “intergalactic” origin and that contracting the disease is “a gift.” These are not, shall we say, scientifically accepted theories.
Attributing a wide range of symptoms to a chronic version of Lyme disease has become a source of income for so-called “Lyme-literate” health care providers, and some celebrities and influencers. have accepted being a Lyme disease patient as part of their identity.
This can lead to expensive courses of treatment, including long-term antibiotic treatments, supplements, intravenous treatments, and other therapies that conventional medicine would deem inappropriate for Lyme or PTLDS And that can actually be dangerous. If you suspect you have Lyme disease, consult a trusted doctor or provider and be wary of attempts to subject you to expensive long-term treatment regimens.