Transmitted to humans by the bites of infected black-legged ticks, Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. Fever, headache, and a characteristic rash are some of the symptoms of this infection. Lyme disease can usually be treated by taking prescribed antibiotics for a few weeks.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease symptoms typically include:
- A characteristic skin rash called "erythema migrans."
If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Diagnosing Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (rash, for example), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Laboratory testing is helpful in the later stages of disease but is not generally recommended when a patient has the characteristic erythema migrans rash.
When making a diagnosis of Lyme disease, healthcare providers will consider other diseases that may cause similar illnesses. Not all patients with Lyme disease will develop the characteristic bullseye rash, and many may not recall a tick bite. Laboratory testing is not recommended for persons who do not have symptoms of Lyme disease.
How Is It Treated?
Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of treatment with antibiotics.
What Can I Do to Prevent It?
Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, landscaping, and using integrated pest management. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.
Testing Ticks for Lyme Disease
Patients who have removed a tick often wonder if they should have it tested. In general, the identification and testing of individual ticks is not useful for deciding if a person should get antibiotics following a tick bite. Nevertheless, some state or local health departments offer tick identification and testing as a community service or for research purposes. Check with your local health department to see if this service is offered. The phone number is usually found in the government pages of the telephone book.