LYME DISEASE OVERVIEW
Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, poses a serious health crisis both nationally and internationally. Transmitted by the bite of a tick, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the spirochete (spiral shaped bacteria) Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is a systemic infection that can affect almost any part of the body. Although Lyme disease is the most well known of the tick-borne infections, multiple infections can be tranferred at one time by a single tick. The presence of multiple infections tends to further complicate diagnosis and treatment.
Lyme disease is found in many countries worldwide. In the United States, Lyme disease has been reported from 49 states, with the highest prevalence in the northeastern, north-central, and Pacific coastal regions. However, ticks are creaping inland as they are carried by travelers and migrating birds. It is important to take proper precautions nation-wide to reduce the risk of contracting tick-borne pathogens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme disease should be diagnosed clinically, which includes factors such as symptoms and exposure to infected ticks. Lyme disease must not be ruled out solely on the basis of a negative test result. While a "bulls-eye" rash is diagnostic for Lyme disease, the types of rashes seen in Lyme disease vary greatly. Further, a significant number of patients do not recall any rash or tick-bite. Symptoms can appear quickly or develop over time. Since Lyme is a multisystem disease, the list of symptoms is long, and it is common to see symptoms affecting multiple systems. Early in the illness Lyme disease can be confused with the flu, but as the disease progresses it can lead to cardiac, musculoskeletal, neurological, and/or other system involvement. Patients with chronic Lyme disease often experience severe headaches, fatigue, pain, insomnia, and memory problems. Chronic Lyme disease can render people completely disabled. For a comprehensive list of symptoms, please see the symptom checklist.
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, either orally or intravenously. Prompt and thorough treatment early in the illness is the most effective method for preventing a persistent, disabling condition. There is no known cure for chronic Lyme disease, and its treatment is surrounded by much controversy. However, many patients find improvements when treated long term, either for Lyme disease bacterial infection and/or for the presence of co-infection.
According to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), "Lyme disease is the latest great imitator and should be considered in the differential diagnosis of MS, ALS, seizure and other neurologic conditions, as well as arthritis, CFS, Gulf war syndrome, ADHD, hypochondriasis, fibromyalgia, somatization disorder and patients with various difficult-to-diagnose multi-system syndromes." Not only can Lyme disease be incorrectly diagnosed as other conditions, it can also occur concurrently with other conditions or be diagnosed incorrectly. Therefore, patients who suspect Lyme disease must have a full clinical evaluation by a knowledgeable, "Lyme Literate" physician. The best referrals are obtained through local patients and support groups.
In addition to Lyme disease, the following infections are also transmitted by ticks: Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Bartonellosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and certain viruses. See the "other tick diseases" section for more information about these diseases.
Links and sources pertaining to the above Lyme disease summary are found throughout the LymeInfo website, but in particular in the "Disease Info" subsections found at the left of this page and in the "Lyme Files."