Lyme disease has gained an increased awareness over the past several years as one of the fastest growing infectious diseases in the United States with 329,000 new cases each year. Many believe this condition is limited to the Northeastern part of the country because it was discovered initially in New England; however, research shows the spiral shaped bacteria associated with Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, has been identified in ticks in all 50 states.
California has become a hotspot for Lyme — 42 of 58 counties have identified Western blacklegged ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. Outside of the United States, more than 65 other countries have also identified the organism in their environment.
While the adult ticks primarily feed on deer, the nymph (immature) ticks feed on squirrels, mice, lizards, rabbits, and certain birds. Tick bites across multiple species of animals can potentiate the spread and number of infections that are transmitted. With the transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi, commonly there are other strains of Borrelia and other associated tick-borne infections that may also spread.
Unfortunately, most individuals with Lyme disease do not actually recall a tick bite. When bitten by a tick, it is important to take action quickly to prevent the progression of an acute infection to chronic Lyme disease because the bacteria may rapidly disseminate throughout the body.
ACUTE LYME DISEASE
Early in the course of the infection, testing is of limited value as it takes 4-6 weeks for the body to develop antibodies. Waiting to treat it, on the other hand, may allow the infection to spread, making it much more difficult to eradicate.
Many people are more exposed in the spring and summer months and symptoms of acute Lyme may seem like a summer flu.Symptoms of acute Lyme disease include:
• Low-grade fevers
• Muscle aches
• Joint pain
•Bull’s-eye rash (appearing within a few days to weeks, a red expanding rash with a clear center, with multiple sites possible)
The most discussed symptom is the bull’s-eye rash, but the absence of this rash does not necessarily correlate with an absence of the infection. Any of the above symptoms should be taken seriously.
CHRONIC LYME DISEASE
The Borrelia bacteria is difficult to detect because it does not appear to circulate in the blood, and usually goes to distant sites like our skin, joints, heart, brain, and bladder. Chronic Lyme disease symptoms may manifest over a period of weeks to years after an initial exposure.
Due to its affinity to multiple organ systems, symptomatic patients are often an enigma to their doctors. This complexity may be potentiated by the neuropsychiatric manifestations of this disease.
Chronic Lyme disease may exhibit as a combination of the following symptoms:
• Neck stiffness, pain and/or spasms
•Difficulty with concentration and focus
• Memory impairment
• Mood swings
• Sleep disturbances
• Joint pain/arthritis
• Abdominal pain/nausea
•Bowel disturbances (constipation/diarrhea)
• Chest pains
• Heart palpitations
• Erectile dysfunction/loss of libido
• Tingling/numbness/shooting pain
Though more light is being shed on Lyme disease, its existence and proper treatment continues to be hotly debated.
PREVENTING LYME DISEASE
Prevention is always the best medicine. Ticks can be the size of poppy seeds, and their bites do not necessarily hurt or itch. Here are some tips on how to mitigate your risk of a tick bite or catch it early:
Wear protective clothing: Hats that have neck coverage, light- colored clothing, Permethrin-treated clothing, and tuck pant legs into socks.
Use an insect repellent: DEET is an option, but others include Picaridin sprays and natural essential oil sprays.
Do regular tick checks when anywhere outdoors including backyards, schoolyards, and parks: Don’t miss the hair, hair line, and skin folds.
Stay on cleared trails while walking and running and avoid piles of leaves.
Ensure your pets are on a flea and tick medication: Animals can bring ticks home, and can be affected by Lyme disease just like humans.
SO YOU GOT BITTEN BY A TICK, NOW WHAT?
First, stay calm. After removing the tick, consider sending it to a lab that can do a Polymerase Chain Response (PCR) test on the tick to identify the Borrelia bacteria and its coinfections. PCR testing only shows the organism with 30 percent accuracy, so a negative result does not eliminate the possibility of infection. The Bay Area Lyme Foundation (bayarealyme.org) offers free Lyme and coinfection testing for ticks.
Although awareness of Lyme disease is growing, there are different perspectives on treatment within the medical community. It is important to consult a Lyme-literate doctor for proper treatment. You can find one at the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ilads.org) using the physician’s directory.
Dr. Thalia Farshchian is a naturopathic doctor specializing chronic complex diseases, including Lyme disease and mold illness. For more information, please visit medicaloptionsforwellness.net