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Health and Fitness News

A Biting Disease

Learn the symptoms, treatment, and prognosis for Lyme disease.

A few days after hiking in the woods, you notice a red bug bite on your leg. It’s caused a rash with radiating red circles like a bulls eye. There’s no doubt. It’s a tick bite.

While the bite may just itch for a few days and go away, you aren’t in the safe zone yet. Ticks carry diseases of all sorts, from Rocky Mountain spotted fever to tularemia to a meat allergy. And of course, Lyme disease—one of the most common illnesses spread by ticks.

Anytime you’re in the woods or tall grasses, fend off ticks and Lyme disease by wearing insect repellant that contains DEET. Here’s why you want to avoid Lyme disease at all costs.

What Is It?

Nasty little critters, deer ticks may carry the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. A single bite from an infected tick can transfer the bacteria into your blood stream and cause damage. However, a tick must be attached to your body for three to four days in order to transmit the disease. If you’re able to remove a tick before it’s had time to become engorged with blood, you’ve likely caught it before disease has spread. For this reason, it’s important to examine your entire body, from your scalp to between your toes, for ticks after you’ve been outdoors. Use mirrors and a spouse or close friend to check those hard-to-see spots.

Symptoms to Watch For

If not immediately treated, the infection can settle in various body tissues, causing a host of negative symptoms. When Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, it’s almost always cured.

The initial symptoms of Lyme disease typically present themselves in the first month and include an expanding red rash surrounding the bite, flu symptoms (chills, fever, headache, and fatigue), swollen lymph nodes near the bite, and joint pain. As the disease spreads throughout the body, you may experience extreme fatigue, numbness or tingling in your hands and feet, and aching and stiffness in your neck. Weeks, months, or even years later you may continue to develop new symptoms. Many people go on to experience headaches, arthritis, heart abnormalities, confusion, dizziness, memory loss, and numbness in their hands and feet.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Because the symptoms of Lyme disease mimic those of other diseases, it can be difficult to diagnose. That said, the only way to diagnose Lyme disease is by your symptoms. Blood tests often provide false positive results.

If you have unusual symptoms like those listed above, see your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner treatment begins, the quicker and fuller your recovery. Antibiotics are the only proven treatment for Lyme disease, so there is no point in home remedies.

Long-Term Prognosis

Most people experience a full and speedy recovery after a three- to four-week course of antibiotics. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of people with Lyme disease continue to deal with fatigue, muscle aches, memory problems, headache, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms for months or even years afterward. Known as post-Lyme disease syndrome or chronic Lyme disease, there’s still no treatment available for lingering symptoms.

Why some people fully recover and others don’t remains a mystery. Some experts believe the bacteria continue to live in the body despite antibiotics, while other experts believe post-Lyme disease syndrome is caused by damage to the immune system and body tissue.

Many people eventually turn to alternative medicines to treat ongoing symptoms. Essential oils, supplements, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and chelation therapy may provide relief, but more research is needed.