Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called as Borrelia burgdoferi sensu lato. It is an infectious disease and is transmitted via a common tick after feeding on human blood. In most cases, Lyme disease last only for a short period of time meaning it’s mainly an acute infection. However, for the rest of the patients, the bacteria can continue to grow causing chronic disease.
People living in the woods and those who own pets especially dogs that walk in the woods are at a high risk of developing Lyme disease.
It is of great importance that you learn about the disease and its signs and symptoms so that you can consult a doctor and get treated early as possible.
Lyme disease includes 3 stages. They are:
- Early localized disease
- Early disseminated disease
- Late disease
Early localized disease
About one to two weeks after the tick bite, the symptoms first start to appear. The site of the tick bite will appear as a large raised red spot known as Erythema migrans, also known as a “Bull’s eye rash”. This is an indication that the bacteria are dividing in the blood.
The thighs, buttocks, trunk and arm pit are the usual sites in which the rash appears and they will disappear in about 3 to 4 weeks. However, in a minority of the patients, this rash never develops or is not noticed.
Early disseminated Lyme disease
As the name suggests, this stage of the disease indicates that the bacteria has spread through the blood to the rest of the body. Therefore in this stage, the affected person will develop general non-specific symptoms such as chills, fever, headaches, fatigability, muscle aches and pains and painful swollen joints. At the same time, the Bull’s eye rash may now be seen on other areas of the body as well.
In about 15% of the cases, the nervous system is also affected and when this happens, there is a tendency to develop meningitis and Bell’s palsy. About 8% of the affected people have a high risk of developing irregular heartbeats. In Lyme disease, if the cardiovascular system is also affected, arrhythmias, pericarditis, and myocarditis are a possibility.
Late disseminated Lyme disease
One might reach to this stage only if the disease has not been treated while in stage one or two. This stage can occur ranging from several weeks to years following a tick bite. Some of the features that characterize this stage include:
- Numbness of the arms, legs, hands and feet.
- Severe headache
- A short term loss in memory
- Joint pain and swelling in one or more joints.
Therefore it is important that you recognize these symptoms early and get it treated before the disease reaches to the late disseminated stage of Lyme disease.
How does Borrelia burgdorferi cause Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can be transmitted to humans by three ways:
- Through the bite of an infected deer tick
- From mother to foetus via the placenta
- Via sexual intercourse
Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete which is responsible for the release of a neurotoxin called the bacterial lipoproteins. These bacterial lipoproteins are the ones that give rise to the symptoms such as burning pain, numbness and memory problems.
Our immune system gets activated when spirochetes enter the body and therefore the T cells hunt down the spirochetes to kill them. Whilst this is happening, the spirochetes try to hide themselves from the cells of the immune system by burying themselves in deeper tissues and organs. When they do this, the spirochetes leave behind antigens on the tissues and organ surfaces and therefore the T cells of the immune system identifies them and starts to attack them hence resulting in inflammation of the healthy tissues and organs. This way the spirochetes escape the immune system and continue to increase in number giving rise to several signs and symptoms.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Lyme disease is an easily treatable disease and therefore diagnosis of the condition is very important to start the right treatment.
On your first visit to the doctor, he or she will take a detailed history and do a complete physical examination. If they notice the Bull’s eye rash, then they are capable of making a quick diagnosis of Lyme disease and start treatment. However, it is not that easy as this sign is seen only in about 30% of cases with Lyme disease. Not just that, only about 17% of the patients recall a history of a tick bite hence proving that clinical diagnosis is not always a reliable way to diagnose Lyme disease.
Your doctor, may therefore do several blood tests which will help them to make a diagnosis of Lyme disease. These include:
- Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA)
- This is a screening test done to check for antibodies against bacteria B. burgdoferi bacteria.
- Western blot
- This test looks for both IgM and IgG antibodies specific for B. burgdoferi.
- Advanced Laboratory Lyme test
- This is a newly developed test, where the Lyme disease causing bacteria is cultured on a medium providing all the optimum conditions for its growth. If growth of B. burgdoferi bacteria is seen, then this test is considered positive.
How is Lyme disease treated?
The treatment of Lyme disease involves 3 stages, which includes:
Identification of the organism and treating it
As Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium, the treatment for it is antibiotic therapy. The recommended antibiotic for Lyme disease is oral doxycycline for 14 to 21 days. Cefuroxime and Amoxicillin can be used where Doxycycline is contraindicated.
The bacterial lipoproteins released by these bacteria are neurotoxins that are responsible for majority of the signs and symptoms. Bio detoxification can be used to facilitate these toxins out of the body.
Treating the weakened immune system
In cases of weakened immune system, the patient should be treated with immunotherapy to allow the body to produce more natural antibodies to help the body fight against these foreign invaders.