Lyme disease is an illness transmitted through bites from deer ticks. The tick feeds on a human's blood, and, while feeding, it may infect the human with a bacterium that eventually causes a range of serious symptoms, such as a skin rash, flu-like symptoms, joint pain and neurological problems. Tick bites can be prevented, and Lyme disease can be treated if caught early enough; otherwise, sufferers may have symptoms for years.
Lyme disease is transmitted through tick bites. When a tick bites a person, it consumes the person's blood and, if it remains attached long enough, it may infect the person with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
At the site of a tick bite, a small red bump may develop within a few days, or it may take as long as a month to appear. The bump may be tender and may feel warm. The bump may gradually expand into a distinctive rash called erythema migrans, a bull's-eye shaped rash with red circles centered on the original bite location. This rash appears on 70 to 80 percent of Lyme disease sufferers, and may have a diameter of 1 to 12 inches.
The hallmarks of Lyme disease are a skin rash, flu-like symptoms, joint pain that moves around the body and, for some patients, neurological problems such as facial paralysis or weakness in the limbs. The skin rash is distinctive to Lyme disease and is described in the previous section. The flu-like symptoms may include aches, fever, chills, and fatigue. Joint pain associated with Lyme disease also may develop if the disease is not treated. Typically, the joints begin to swell and become quite painful. Patients' knees are most frequently affected, though the pain and swelling can move among joints. This joint pain may develop within a week or take as long as months after the initial tick bite and infection.
Some of the less common effects of Lyme disease may include an irregular heartbeat, insomnia, eye inflammation or hepatitis. Lyme disease manifests in different ways for different patients, and a unique set of symptoms may be experienced by each person.
Deer ticks that carry the disease-causing bacteria are more likely to be present in grassy or very wooded areas. When participating in activities in these areas, deter tick bites by wearing long sleeves and pants, and check your body all over for ticks that have attached to your skin and are feeding. Ticks are especially likely to bite in the genital area, around the waistband, or behind the knees. A tick may need to feed on your blood for as long as 48 hours to transmit the bacteria to your bloodstream. A swollen tick attached your body who has clearly been feeding for some time may have had time to infect you with the disease-causing bacteria. Remove any ticks found on your body as soon as possible.
Lyme disease does not have a simple cure. If caught early, it can be treated, but some patients may have symptoms that persist for years. Take the risk of tick-borne infection seriously, and protect yourself from ticks by wearing appropriate clothing and monitoring your skin for tick bites.