It’s hard to imagine that a nasty little insect no bigger than the size of a poppy seed can wreak so much havoc in a person’s life. People who have been infected by Lyme disease may recount stories of years of pain, suffering and the stress of being misunderstood – or even dismissed – by the medical profession. But greater education and research are helping medical practitioners and the public come to grips with the disease and its effects.
The chances are you’ve heard of Lyme disease, but did you know that it’s actually caused by a bacteria?
Lyme disease, or Lyme (borreliosis), is caused by borrelia bacteria, and exists in many strains that vary in symptom severity.1
Transmission takes place when a tick bites an infected animal and then implants itself into human skin. While Lyme is usually associated with deer and areas heavily-populated by the nocturnal animal bearing its telltale white tail, Lyme can also be transmitted through other animals, including dogs and mice.
Lyme has been in the news lately with its spread to larger parts of rural areas and to North American cities, as well. With ticks increasing their range, the Public Health Agency of Canada predicts 18,000 cases by 2020, an exponential rise from current numbers.
There are three stages of Lyme disease infection, which may blur together quite rapidly
Stage 1: Early infection (first few days after infection)
Stage 2: Infection spreads (days to weeks following infection)
Stage 3: Chronic Lyme (days to weeks after infection if left untreated, or not properly treated, for months/years after infection)
The Mystery and Misery of Lyme
Lyme disease is one of the most treatable of chronic illnesses, yet there are numerous accounts of individuals who continue to suffer from its effects for many years following the initial infection. Why is this?
The symptoms of Lyme disease are varied and can be extremely debilitating. It’s the fact of overlap with several other conditions that sometimes leads to misdiagnosis – or no diagnosis at all. And in the medical arena, few things are more frustrating for a patient than not being taken seriously. Lyme disease has been misdiagnosed2 as AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and even depression. With increased awareness, it’s hoped that early diagnosis, which is key, will help prevent long-term suffering for individuals who have been infected.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of Lyme3 vary from person to person and can recede and flare up again, adding to the difficulty in diagnosis. There are, in fact, more than 100 known symptoms, but one of the most common signs is a rash, sometimes shaped like a bull’s eye mark, at the bite site or on other parts of the body. However, in 50% of cases, there is no rash at all.
Flu-like symptoms4 such as fever, headache, nausea, jaw pain, light sensitivity, red eyes, muscle aches, and neck stiffness are often present.
Other symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Unexplained hair loss
- Headache, mild or severe
- Facial paralysis
- Tingling of nose, (tip of) tongue; cheek or facial flushing
- Symptoms of sinusitis: sore throat, clearing throat a lot, phlegm, hoarseness, runny nose
- Overly emotional reactions, crying easily
- Cognitive impairment such as slow or slurred speech
What You Can Do
While the growing threat of Lyme disease may present a gloomy picture of the potential for illness, the good news is there are simple steps5 you can take to help minimize your chances of infection.
– Wear long pants tucked into your socks or footwear, long sleeves and closed-toe shoes to prevent ticks from attaching themselves to your skin
– Check your body carefully for ticks after spending time in wooded or grassy areas
– Examine your pets for ticks after they come in from outside
– Keep the grass on your property cut short to discourage unwanted insect visitors. You basically want to make your surroundings as uninviting to ticks as possible
– Discourage deer: if they come on your property, don’t feed them. Construct barriers to prevent their entry on to your property
– According to Consumer Reports,6 a plant-based repellent should be your first anti-tick product. Insect repellents that contain DEET or Icaridin have been shown to be effective, but use these sparingly: products with 95 percent or more DEET have been linked to serious side effects.7
CanLyme – the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation – offers practical information and guidance, as well as research updates and recommended books on Lyme disease. See www.CanLyme.com.8
The Bogoroch Post is for information only and Is not intended to provide medical or legal advice.