Lyme disease is a vector-borne bacterial disease that is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and spreads by the bite of infected black-legged ticks. The infection shows up as flu, fatigue, fever and headache along with a skin rash called erythema migrans.
It is important to diagnose and treat the disease early to promote recovery. If not treated on time, Lyme disease can spread to the heart, joints and nervous system and lead to further problems like nerve pain and arthritis.
Now, new research by Yale University suggests that a protein called PGLYRP1 helps protect the body against the tick that causes Lyme disease and that improving a person’s ability to release more of this protein can help fight the disease better. The findings of the study are published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.
While it may take more research to put the findings into application, here are some things you should know about Lyme disease.
Symptoms and signs of Lyme disease
The following are some of the early signs of Lyme disease that show up within 3 to 30 days of the tick bite:
- Joint and muscle pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
About 70% of people with the disease develop a characteristic rash within the first month. The rash has a bulls-eye appearance and can show up on any area of the body. It grows slowly and can reach up to the size of 30 cm. However, since not all people develop the rash and the other symptoms are pretty vague, the disease is quite difficult to diagnose.
When not treated on time, symptoms like facial palsy, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, nerve pain, irregular heartbeat, arthritis, shooting pain and tingling in limbs, stiff neck and severe headache can show up.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease
Lyme disease is mainly diagnosed through the signs and symptoms of the disease and the possibility of exposure to ticks. The doctor would also rule out other diseases by asking you to get certain tests done.
Tests for Lyme disease mostly look for the presence of antibodies in the blood of a person. Since antibodies develop a bit later (after the infection has set in), when done too early, antibody tests would give negative results.
On the other hand, antibodies against certain other viral, bacterial and tickborne diseases may cross-react with the antibodies our body produces against Lyme disease, so the test may also show up false positive in some other cases.
Lyme disease is mostly treated through antibiotics; early treatment is effective in quick recovery. However, those in the later phases of the disease may need longer treatment. Even then, some people may continue to notice fatigue, difficulty thinking and pain after six months of the treatment. The condition is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome and does not have a known cause so far.
Prevention of Lyme disease
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is by preventing tick bites. Here is how you can do it:
- Avoid tick-infested areas altogether. This includes the woods and grassy or brushy areas.
- Whenever you go out in tick-infested areas make sure to wear full-sleeved and light-coloured clothes so any ticks can be easily identified.
- Wear insect repellents on your clothes.
- Check yourself (skin, hair, folds of clothes) for the presence of ticks soon as you return from an affected area and take a bath if possible.
- Wash your clothes and dry them at high temperatures.
- If you have a lawn, make sure to keep it mowed to avoid ticks.
For more information, read our article on Lyme disease.
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