According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC), Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease occurring in the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that the disease is making a resurgence around the world.
Vector-borne diseases are human illnesses that are caused by either a virus or a bacteria, or even a parasite. These pathogens (i.e. viruses, bacteria, and parasites) are transmitted from one human being to another by means of vectors. Vectors are the animals who “bite” a human being whose blood contains the virus, or bacteria, or parasite, any of which would then transfer to the animal. The animal (the vector) now carries the infectious pathogen, and the pathogen replicates inside the vector. When the vector bites another human being, the pathogen goes from the vector to the new human being, and the pathogen now has a new host to infect.
In the case of Lyme disease, the vector is an infected black legged tick, also known as a deer tick. Deer ticks can carry one or several types of bacteria: Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia mayonii, Borrelia afzelii, or Borrelia garninii. Of these four bacteria, two are known to cause Lyme disease: often it is the Borrelia burgdorferi; and rarely, but still possible, Borrelia mayonii.
Some patients do not recall having felt a bite, or having been bitten at all by any insect, and are thus surprised that signs and symptoms would appear on them. Therefore, the bases of diagnosis for Lyme disease would often have to be based on symptoms (which will be discussed in the succeeding pages), physical findings (e.g. rashes), and the history of having possibly been exposed to black legged ticks over the preceding 3 to 30 days, the typical incubation period of the bacteria that cause the illness.
Any human being can get bitten by deer ticks. However, the risks are higher for people who work with animals, those who live near livestock, those who live in rural areas where animals could roam free, and pet owners and pet handlers because of their regular or frequent proximity to tick-infested animals.
Because its signs and symptoms can be similar to other types of illnesses, it is best that the initial suspicions of Lyme disease are corroborated or confirmed through laboratory testing. Because Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, it is treated using antibiotics. In most cases, Lyme disease is treated successfully within a few weeks. However, if left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, the liver, the eyes, the heart, or even the nervous system, which could then lead to serious complications.
Laboratory testing is recommended for a definitive diagnosis of Lyme disease. However, there are signs and symptoms that should raise your alert level as to the possibility of Lyme disease, and therefore the need to be checked by a doctor, who can then do a more thorough and well-informed checking of the patient, and possibly the recommendation for the laboratory tests to be done.
Here are 16 signs and symptoms of Lyme disease. If these are present, not necessarily all of them but possibly in combination, you might want to get checked by a doctor: