JUL 22, 2017 8:56 AM PDT

Lyme Disease: Small Bites, Big Consequences

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Did you know that more Americans (~300,000 people) are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year than breast cancer or HIV/AIDS? In fact, health officials think this number could actually be even higher because Lyme disease is frequently misdiagnosed.

The disease is caused by a corkscrew bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi, which only gets transmitted to humans via the bite of an infected tick. The disease is known as the "Great Imitator" because symptoms, such as rash, fever, headache, and fatigue, are nonspecific and can mimic many other conditions.

Not getting the appropriate treatment for Lyme disease has severe health consequences. Long-term, the infection can cause loss of muscle tone, joint pain, severe headaches, heart palpitations, and other neurological symptoms. But unfortunately, many people who contract the disease end up with a misdiagnosis of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, or another psychiatric illness.

It's important to note that not all tick bites will transmit Lyme disease. And not everyone who is infected with Lyme disease will develop the telltale bullseye rash. Because of this, it's more critical to prevent infection in the first place. Prevention measures include using insect repellent, wearing long pants and shirts, and sticking to trails, if possible, when in the woods. Lastly, it's a good habit to always check yourself, your family members, and even your pets, when you get back from the great outdoors.

If you do find a tick, officials recommend using good tweezers to pull all of the tick out of the body, and wash the site well with soap and water. Of note, methods that involve matches, nail polish, or other household chemicals are not effective and can make the wound even worse.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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