Lyme disease is a bacterial infection from a tick bite. It is passed from an infected deer tick that has attached and fed for more than 36 hours.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria found in some deer ticks. The bacteria passes from the tick when it bites and feeds for a long time.
The bacteria can pass into the blood if the infection is not treated. This allows the bacteria to travel through the body and affect different areas.
Things that may increase the risk of Lyme disease are:
- Living in the northeastern, northwestern, mid-Atlantic, or upper north-central regions of the US, and northwestern California
- Outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and gardening in areas/seasons with deer ticks
- Living near or going to wooded, grassy areas
- Working outdoors, such as surveying, landscaping, forestry, gardening, and utility company service work
The symptoms of Lyme disease will be different in each person. Some people will not have symptoms. Those who do may have mild or severe symptoms.
The first sign may be a red rash. The rash starts as a small red spot at the site of the tick bite. It will then spread over the next few days or weeks to form a circular or oval-shaped rash. Sometimes, the rash looks like a bull's eye with a red ring around a clear area with a red center. The rash may cover a small dime-sized area or a wide area of the body.
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The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You may be asked about any tick bite or exposure to places where ticks are present. The doctor may suspect Lyme disease in a person who has the classic bulls-eye rash.
The body may make antibodies to help fight the infection. A blood test will be done to look for these antibodies.
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Treatment may last from 5 to 28 days. It depends on how severe the disease is.
Some people may have long lasting problems, such as arthritis. A treatment plan will be made to help manage it.
Avoid tick-infested areas when possible. To lower the risk of Lyme disease in tick-infested areas:
- Wear light-colored clothing, and pants tucked into socks. Put clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes after use to kill off ticks.
- Use tick repellents.
- Check for ticks often. Properly remove any ticks. Consider taking a bath or shower when you are indoors.
- Wash tick bites with soap and water after the tick is removed.
Be aware of the risk of Lyme disease in the area. Monitor any tick bites for a rash.
An antibiotic may be given after a tick bite in an area with a high risk of lyme disease. This treatment may be reserved for those at high risk of severe illness and a tick that has been in place for at least 36 hours.
Early Symptoms—3 to 30 Days After Tick Bite
- A rash
- Muscle and joint aches
- Lack of energy
- Swollen glands
- Lyme disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme.
- Lyme disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/lyme-disease.
- Lyme disease. Family Doctor—American Academy of Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/lyme-disease.
- Lyme disease. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease.
- David L. Horn, MD, FACP
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