Lyme disease is an illness caused by a tick bite--specifically, the bite of the black legged tick or deer tick. Some of these ticks carry a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The tick transfers the bacteria to a person’s bloodstream through the bite. The tick must be attached for at least 24 hours before this can happen.
Over time, untreated Lyme disease can cause serious problems with the heart, joints, nervous system, and memory. You’re most likely to get infected during spring and summer. So before you rush outside to enjoy the warmth of the sun, take some time to review Lyme disease symptoms and when you should see your health care provider.
Lyme Disease: What to Look For
If you become ill within a few weeks of a known tick bite, see your health care provider right away. And even when you aren’t sure if you’ve been bitten by a tick--but have the symptoms of Lyme disease and have been in the great outdoors--you should check in with your provider. Immature deer ticks cause most infections; they are very tiny and many people are bitten without being aware of it.
Shortly after infection, Lyme disease can cause:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A bull’s-eye-shaped rash at the site of the bite, which can appear within a few days or up to a month after the bite
If Lyme disease is caught and treated early, the infection usually goes away quickly without long-term problems. That’s why it’s important to see your health care provider promptly if you have Lyme disease symptoms, even if you don’t think you’ve been bitten by a tick.
How Is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?
A blood test is used to determine whether someone is infected with Lyme disease. Unfortunately, the test isn’t accurate until several weeks have passed after infection. But that doesn’t mean you should delay seeking medical attention. Your provider may treat you with antibiotics for Lyme disease based on your exposure risk and symptoms, even if your blood test is negative.
Sometimes, people test positive for Lyme disease when they don’t actually have it. Positive results may be due to an autoimmune disease. Or, in certain cases, people have a false positive because they were previously exposed to Lyme disease but the infection isn’t active anymore. You can test positive months or even years after the illness-causing bacteria is gone.
Lyme disease can cause long-term illness if left untreated, so it’s important to work with your health care provider if you think you may be infected. He or she is your best ally to diagnose and treat it promptly.
Building Knowledge, Enhancing Care
Did you know WCHN is involved in Lyme Disease research? Learn more here about our efforts.