With a continually increasing number of occurrences in the past twenty years and with the expectation of it to continue increasing into the foreseeable future, Lyme disease is counted among the handful of emerging infectious disease (EID). Also referred to as borreliosis, Lyme disease is the most common disease transmitted to humans by ticks in the Northern hemisphere and it is cause by three identified species of bacteria belonging to the genus Borrelia: Borrelia burgdorferi is the leading cause of Lyme disease in the United States while Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii are the causing culprits in Europe.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The incubation period from the time of exposure (the bite) to the appearance of symptoms is usually one to two weeks but it can be as short as several days or as long as a number of months or even years. In about seven percent of the cases, Lyme disease is asymptomatic (the affected person experiences no symptoms) but for the remaining ninety three percent of the cases, the symptoms appear in three stages
- Erythema chronicum migrans (a.k.a. erythema migrans or EM) is an infected outward expanding rash that appears at the site of the tick bite approximately twenty days after having been bitten and may look somewhat like a “bulls-eye” which radiates heat but is usually painless.
- The affected person may experience flu-like symptoms (headache, muscle soreness, fever and a general feeling of discomfort).
- The initial infection may begin spreading through the bloodstream and the erythema migrans rash may appear in other parts of the body.
- Borrelial lymphocytoma which is a purplish lump may also develop on the ear lobes, the nipples or the scrotum.
- Drifting pains in muscles, joints, and tendons; palpitations of the heart and dizziness.
- Bell’s palsy is the loss of muscle tone on either side of the face or on both sides.
- Meningitis is the inflammation of the membrane which covers the brain and leads to severe headaches, stiffness of the neck and extreme sensitivity to light.
- Radiculoneuritis brings on shooting pains and abnormal skin sensations which can disrupt sleep patterns.
- Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain and may cause memory loss, mental confusion, mood swings and insomnia.
- Severe and chronic symptoms affecting the brain, the nervous system, the eyes, the joints and the heart.
- Polyneuropathy is a neurologic condition that causes shooting pains along with numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
- Lyme encephalophathy is a neurologic syndrome that leads to cognitive problems such as inability to concentrate and loss of short term memory.
- Intense fatigue and deep depression.
- Fibromyalgia causes pain in muscles and connective tissue.
- Chronic encephalomyelitis is a progressive condition that leads to cognitive impairment, weakness of the legs and therefore awkward walking, facial palsy, bladder problems, vertigo (dizziness and imbalance) and pain along the spine.
- Psychosis such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, attacks of panic, anxiety and somatoform delusions.
- Lyme arthritis is most often found in the knees but can also affect ankle, elbow, wrist, hip and shoulder joints.
- Baker’s cysts are benign swellings behind the knees.
- Acrodermatitis chronic atrophicans (ACA) is a skin disease that usually appears as purple blotches on the arms or legs and leaves the skin very thin and wrinkled.
Treating Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is most often treated with a variety of antibiotics but the type of antibiotic, the length of the treatments and the prescribed doses depend on the affected person and the severity of the condition.