Mind & Body

This fall think about Lyme disease

 | October 12, 2012

Do you believe you must be in an infected area to get Lyme disease? If you do, think again. A 10 year study reports that you can catch this malady in your own backyard. Lyme disease was first suspected in North America in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut. Because an unusual number of children were developing what was first thought to be juvenile rheumatoid arthritis a team of scientists were sent to study them. These children all exhibited a “bull’s eye” rash. In addition, they suffered from muscular, heart and neurological problems. The final diagnosis? Lyme disease.

The first case occurred in Canada in 1977.

Lyme disease is due to a bacterial germ, Borrelia burgdorferi, which resides in deer, mice, squirrels and other small animals. The blacklegged tick (deer tick) becomes infected when feeding on these animals and its bite then transmits the disease to humans. A tick must remain attached to the skin for several hours to transmit Lyme disease.

Lyme disease has been labeled as The Great Intimidator. Like syphilis, it can mimic many different diseases and has a multitude of clinical symptoms. The result is that the diagnosis is often missed by doctors.

The first sign is usually a rash that erupts within a month after the initial bite of an infected tick. It’s often found at the site of the bite and is red and circular with a clear center that resembles a bull’s eye. But a report from the U.S. Centre for Disease Control says that only three out of 10 people get a bull’s eye rash.

The rash may be painless, or painful and itchy, and hot. Patients normally complain of flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headache, aching muscles and low grade fever. There may be pain in the joints and enlargement of lymph nodes.

If untreated three to five months later, the disease strikes again. About one in 10 patients develops cardiac abnormalities such as irregular heart beat or heart block. The majority recover after a short time.

Neurological complications occur in about 10 percent of patients. Peripheral nerves may be involved or patients suffer from encephalitis, meningitis or Bell’s palsy.

The last stage of Lyme disease occurs five months to five years after the initial infection. Patients complain of pain primarily in large joints such as the knees. A few cases have been reported in which symptoms were similar to multiple sclerosis.

The best treatment for Lyme disease is prevention. Wear long sleeve shirts and pants tucked into socks while walking in wooded areas. Light coloured clothing is also preferable as ticks can be more easily spotted. Use an insect repellent. Check clothes for ticks and examine your body including hair and scalp. It’s also prudent to check pets and brush them off outdoors.

Prompt treatment with antibiotics is essential to prevent later complications.