Find Your Next Speaker!


Could You Have Lyme Disease and Not Know It?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

(Everyday Health) – Lyme disease is a potentially serious tick-borne illness that can be tricky to diagnose. And the number of cases in the United States may be vastly underreported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A report published in the September 2015 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases estimates that 329,000 cases of Lyme disease occur in this country each year — more than 10 times the 30,000 confirmed and probable cases typically reported to the CDC.

As the CDC points out, onset of Lyme disease is most common in June, July, and August, when ticks are more active and people spend more time outdoors. But these ticks also feed in the spring, as well as during the summer months. A bacterial infection caused by a bite from the black-legged tick (also called the deer tick), Lyme disease is prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

It was previously believed that Borrelia burgdorferi was the only species of bacteria that causes Lyme disease in North America. But according to a study published earlier this year in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers have discovered another species of bacteria, Borrelia mayonii, that can cause the disease.

So how do you know if you have Lyme disease? The first sign is usually a rash with a bull’s-eye shape that appears within weeks of being bitten by an infected tick. The rash may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as body aches, fatigue, and fever.

But not everyone develops a rash, according to Penelope Dennehy, MD, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. In those cases, “it’s difficult to sort out Lyme symptoms from whatever garden variety illness or virus is going around,” Dr. Dennehy says.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause arthritis or neurological problems. Though most cases can be treated with antibiotics, a small percentage of patients report lingering symptoms of fatigue and pain — a condition known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

Here are some simple precautions you can take to avoid getting Lyme disease in the first place:

  • Use insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend using DEET on infants younger than two months.
  • Light-colored clothing can help you spot ticks more easily. Wear long-sleeved shirts, and tuck pants into your socks to reduce skin exposure.
  • Wash clothes and inspect your body after being outdoors. Be sure to check kids and pets as well. Dennehy suggests parents look for “any freckles that weren’t there before.”
  • Don’t panic if you spot a tick on your body. It has to embed itself for at least 24 hoursand be infected in order to transmit the disease.
  • If a tick is embedded in your skin, use tweezers to grab the tick near its head and pull straight up.
  • If you think you’ve been bitten and have any symptoms, even if the signs seem to disappear, contact your doctor.
Get A Quote For: