JUL 11, 2019 06:45 AM PDT

Difficulties With Diagnosing Lyme Disease

WRITTEN BY: Abbie Arce

Now found in 65 countries worldwide, Lyme disease is the fastest-growing vector-borne illness in the United States. Recent estimates suggest approximately 300,000 people are infected in the United States each year.

Caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, the illness is transmitted to humans by a tick bite. This pest is commonly picked up by hikers or other outdoor enthusiasts while brushing up against plants during activity. 

Even though so many people are affected, diagnostic tests for the illness still fall short. 

The symptoms for Lyme disease are broad in range. They’re also different for each person and at each stage of the disease. Additionally, the symptom most commonly associated with Lyme disease, the bulls-eye shaped rash, does not appear in all cases. Even when it does, it may not be noticed by the infected person. This is especially true in older adults, or when bites occur on the scalp or in other hard-to-see places.

Further complicating the matter, initial symptoms can occur long after the tick has gone. It may take as many as 30 days for symptoms ranging from facial palsy, swollen joints, fever, chills, and swollen lymph nodes to occur.

Because numerous conditions can cause all of the symptoms, the diagnosis of Lyme disease is an unlikely one and would require further testing. Even when testing is initiated, the diagnostic process may not yield accurate results until weeks after the bacteria enter into the body.

Once a person is confirmed to have Lyme disease, treatment with antibiotics can begin. Drugs like doxycycline and amoxicillin are commonly used on both children and adults. Generally, these medications are given orally. For some persons with neurological or cardiac concerns, antibiotics may be administered intravenously.

Although most people fully recover, others have symptoms that can last a lifetime. When the symptoms last more than six months past the date of treatment completion, it’s called Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). Long-lasting symptoms can include memory problems, pain, and fatigue. Unfortunately, there is no proven treatment for PTLDS, and long courses of antibiotics are not recommended as they can be dangerous or even fatal. 

The above video explains some of the difficulties associated with testing for Lyme disease. 

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Bill Rawls

About the Author
  • Abbie is an AFAA certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with an interest in all things health-science. She has recently graduated with her BS in Applied Sport and Exercise Science from Barry University in Miami. Next, she intends to earn an MPH with a focus in Epidemiology.
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