JUL 22, 2017 08:56 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.
You May Also Like
NOV 05, 2018
Videos
NOV 05, 2018
The Mechanisms Underlying the Deadly Blow of the Mantis Shrimp
The mantis shrimp packs a powerful punch that can strike its enemies with one of the fastest moves in the animal kingdom....
NOV 15, 2018
Videos
NOV 15, 2018
A Season of Outbreaks
In a few different places around the world, people are facing disease outbreaks due to pathogenic microbes....
NOV 19, 2018
Videos
NOV 19, 2018
The Amazon's worst enemy
Brazil has a new leader, and he could be the Amazon’s biggest enemy yet. President Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to sell off large portions of the rainf...
NOV 22, 2018
Videos
NOV 22, 2018
The science of gratitude
On a day like Thanksgiving, it is easy to remember all that we are thankful for. But for a while now scientists have been trying to crack the code behind t...
DEC 10, 2018
Health & Medicine
DEC 10, 2018
What To Expect During Your Stress Test
If you or a loved one has been scheduled for a treadmill stress test, you may be wondering what you can expect. The procedure is usually done in a hospital...
DEC 12, 2018
Health & Medicine
DEC 12, 2018
Let it All Out - Swearing is Healthy for You
Lalochezia is an emotional relief obtained by spewing vulgar language, and science suggests that swearing regularly could be good for your overall health a...
Loading Comments...