What is Lyme disease?
by Vigdis Tange Andersen
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria. "Borrelia burgdorferi". Lyme disease in humans can cause serious symptoms but can be effectively treated. The early stage of Lyme disease is usually marked by one or more of the following symptoms and signs: headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans, chills, fever and fatigue.
Unfortunately, because of the small size of the nymphal I. scapularis tick, the inciting bite often goes undetected. If Lyme disease is suspected, the physician can order a blood test to check for infection. The blood test, however, may be negative during the early phases of the disease, and false positives have been known to occur. Specialized tests to identify the genetic material of Borrelia burgdorferi within arthritic joints may aid in the diagnosis of Lyme arthritis.
The diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease presents numerous obstacles. People can be bitten by a tick without knowing it, and even when the bite is noticed, all ticks are not infected. The red circular rash around the bite, the telltale sign of an infected tick, does not always appear. Furthermore, Lyme disease symptoms mimic other diseases, such as fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis, and no tests can reliably identify the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi.
How to remove an attached tick. Ticks are best removed as soon as possible, because the risk of Lyme disease transmission increases significantly after 24 hours of attachment. Brush off any ticks that are not attached and use tweezers to remove those that are. To remove them, grasp the tick's mouth-parts as close to the skin as possible, and use a slow steady pressure while pulling straight out. Don't attempt to jerk the tick out. Try not to squeeze the tick's body or tear the skin. If the tick's mouthparts remain in the skin, however, don't worry - the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is located in the tick's belly. After removing the tick, always wash the area immediately with soap and water, alcohol or antiseptic. Pets should be checked as they come into the house. Other popular tick-removal tactics - such as butter, fingernail polish, gasoline, kerosene, petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol, and lit matches or cigarettes - are usually ineffective and can even be hazardous. Watch the site of the bite for the appearance of a rash beginning 3 to 30 days after the bite. At the same time, learn about the other early symptoms of Lyme disease and watch to see if they appear in about the same timeframe. If a rash or other early symptoms develop, call your health care provider.
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