Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States (1), with more than 300,000 cases reported each year and thousands more unreported or undiagnosed. With such staggering numbers and warmer weather on the way, it’s important that we discuss what you need to know about Lyme Disease. Including: how to prevent it and what to do if you think you’ve contracted it.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection most commonly passed through tick bites, especially deer ticks and black-legged ticks (2). These ticks carry a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called borrelia burgdorferi. When the tick bites, bacteria is transmitted into the bloodstream, causing autoimmune symptoms, like fever, headaches, fatigue, and sometimes a rash that resembles a bullseye. However, these symptoms are not always experienced right away. It can take days, weeks, and even months after a tick bite for the condition to spread throughout the body and for symptoms to occur.
While deer ticks and black-legged ticks are the most commonly known source of transmission, not all of these ticks are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Not everyone who gets bitten by a tick has the same reaction.
If you are bitten by a tick and suspect that you may have Lyme Disease, it’s important to see your healthcare provider for proper testing. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warns that Lyme Disease poses the greatest risk when left untreated.
Untreated Lyme Disease can cause serious complications that affect blood vessels, the immune system, and vital organs. It can also lead to chronic infections, degeneration of joints, nerve damage, and various endocrine and nervous system complications (3).
If caught early, Lyme Disease is treatable with a 3-month course of antibiotics. When left undiagnosed and untreated, Lyme Disease sometimes becomes harder to diagnose as its symptoms begin to mimic those of other diseases and disorders, like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and psychiatric illnesses, including depression and anxiety. It is often misdiagnosed for this reason, with chronic fatigue syndrome being the most common misdiagnosis.
To prevent tick bites and Lyme Disease, I recommend using an essential oil called Thieves or the Fighting Five, a combination of cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary, clove, and lemon that acts as a bug and insect repellent when applied to the arms and legs. It’s also best to wear long pants and socks as well as high top hiking boots when spending time in wooded areas.
Even if you’ve protected your skin, you’ll want to check yourself for ticks after hiking or camping. Some ticks can be as small as poppy seeds. And they might still find their way onto your body even if you’ve taken precautions.
Lyme Disease is one of the most complex conditions I’ve ever encountered as a physician. I want to make sure that you have all the information you need to prevent it when possible, and also understand treatment and testing in the event that you are affected.
Please follow along as I continue this conversation in a series of blog posts throughout the month of May (which is Lyme Disease awareness month).