Lyme Disease - What It Is & How To Prevent It
Ticks are moving at a fast rate of 34-35 km per year towards the north, and so is Lyme disease. From Ontario, ticks have expanded to include northern Ontario, southern Quebec, Manitoba, southern New Brunswick, southwest Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, and as far east as the island of Newfoundland.
Compared to 2020, Lyme disease cases doubled in 2021 and are since on the rise.
Therefore, there should be more awareness about Lyme disease in humans, what it is, and how to prevent it, so, let’s take a look.
Introduction to Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a vector-borne disease caused by the bacteria of the Borrelia genus. The vector of this disease is mainly in ticks of the Ixodes genus. The disease is only transmitted after prolonged exposure to a tick’s bite, 36 hours in the case of genus Ixodes. It has also been observed that nymphal instars rather than adult ticks cause most cases of Lyme disease. The usual onset of disease happens one week after a bite.
To learn about ticks, tick bites, and tick-borne Illnesses, click here.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease. The number of people infected increases day by day due to staggering tick populations. It is speculated that climate change may be why tick populations are spreading into new areas, increasing tick-borne illnesses in humans.
Borreliosis Infections mainly occur during spring, and early summer when temperatures are favorable for ticks and people are partaking in outdoor activities more. Lyme disease does not appear to be a communicable disease, meaning it does not transmit between people, other animals, or food.
Cause & Transmission of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria of the Borrelia species. The 20 Borrelia species related to Lyme are collectively known as Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. Among these, eight are known to cause Lyme disease. These include
- Borrelia Afzelii
- Borrelia Bissettiae
- Borrelia Burgdorferi Sensu Stricto
- Borrelia Garinii
- Borrelia Lusitaniae
- Borrelia Mayonii
- Borrelia Spielmanii
- Borrelia Valaisiana
Lyme disease is a zoonotic disease, and it gets transmitted to humans by ticks who catch the Borrelia bacteria from small mammals and birds.
Ticks live up to 2 to 3 years and undergo four stages in their lifecycle, namely egg, larva, nymph, and finally adult. The Lyme disease gets transmitted more frequently during the nymphal stage as that is the time when the climate is suitable for ticks. Also, because the nymphs are generally the size of a poppy seed and, therefore, can go unnoticed when they bite. Ticks also secrete saliva with anesthetic properties that prevent the host from feeling any pain or itch from the bite. Adult ticks are larger in size and can easily be seen and removed within 24 hours.
Transmission of Lyme disease quite rare as only about 1.2 to 1.4 % of tick bites result in infection.
The placenta can also get infected during pregnancy, but there is no scientific evidence to support the transmission via breast milk, sexual contact, or blood transfusion. Ticks that transmit Lyme disease to humans can also carry and transmit several other tick-borne infections.
Risk Factors for Lyme Disease
The location where you live and your lifestyle directly co-relate to your chances of getting Lyme disease, such as:
- The people and children who spend more time in wooded or grassy areas are more prone to tick bites, thus - Lyme disease.
- Working, hiking, or traveling outdoors with bare skin in places where tick populations are more common significantly increase the chance of getting bitten by ticks as they cling to naked flesh more easily.
- If you don’t remove ticks promptly within 36 hours, it can significantly increase your chances of getting infected. Improperly removing ticks can also be a contributor to infections.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease signs and symptoms can vary from person to person after being bitten by a tick.
Lyme disease occurs in stages, and the signs and symptoms of each stage can overlap. In some people, Lyme disease may present in a later stage without a history of prior signs or symptoms.
Early Signs and Symptoms
Where a tick bites, a small, red bump, appears and resolves over a few days. A tick bite doesn’t indicate Lyme disease; as we have said before, only about 1.2 to 1.4 % of tick bites result in infection.
- However, if you have been infected, after 3 to 30 days, an expanding red area might appear in the bulls-eye pattern. It is termed “erythema migrans,” which can slowly expand 12 inches (30 centimeters) over days. It’s not painful or itchy but might feel warm to the touch. It is important to note that this rash can develop in more than one place on the body.
- Other symptoms include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache, neck stiffness, chills, and swollen lymph nodes.
Later Signs and Symptoms
If Lyme disease infection goes untreated, the condition can worsen. New signs and symptoms include:
- Erythema migrans spreading all over the body.
- Extreme joint pain and swelling, especially in the knees.
- Weeks, months, or even years after infection, you might develop meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain), Bell’s palsy (temporary paralysis of one side of your face), impaired muscle movement, and numbness or weakness in limbs.
- Severe fatigue.
Some fewer common signs and symptoms have been observed in people several weeks after infection, including irregular heartbeat, eye, and liver inflammation.
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease
Infections can make Lyme diagnosis and treatment difficult and often elusive.
Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, signs, exposure to infected ticks, and is then confirmed through laboratory tests.
The bacteria that cause Lyme disease are challenging to observe directly in body tissues and difficult and too time-consuming to grow in the laboratory. The most widely used tests look instead for the presence of antibodies against Lyme bacteria in the blood. Antibiotics are the primary for the Lyme disease treatment.
Prevention of Lyme Disease
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid wooded, bushy areas with long grass where you have heard the disease is prevalent.
Here are some simple precautions to decrease your chance of getting Lyme disease:
- When going outside, cover up. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, hat and gloves, and socks and shoes. If your pet is accompanying you, keep it on a leash.
- Keep your yard clean, dispose of leaves, and keep stacks the wood neat. Mow the lawn, especially where a property meets the forest or an overstory of trees or shrubs. 82% of tick nymphs are found in the 3-meter boundary closest to the lawn's edge.
- As soon as you come indoors, check yourself, your clothing, children, and pets for ticks.
- Remove a tick carefully as soon as possible with tweezers. Grasp them with tweezers close to the mouth and not the body, as doing that can release their body fluids into your system.
- Get rid of them by dropping them in soapy water and alcohol, flushing them down the toilet, or sticking them to a disposable tape. Fold the tape over the ticks and then throw it away.
Fear of ticks shouldn't stop us from enjoying activities outdoors, especially after more than two years of lockdown due to the pandemic. However, it is time to go back outside and enjoy mother nature.
Lyme disease is a severely debilitating, and you don't have to take a single chance. Properly using an insect repellant can decrease your chances of getting Lyme disease up to 90%.
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About The Author:
Abdullah is a certified gold-medal horticulturist. Passionate about gardening since childhood, he chose it as a career and now works as a senior horticulturist and also dedicates his time to leading his village farming community. Currently they are trying to plant more trees and flowering vines and shrubs to make their village attractive. Most of Abdullah's time is spent gardening, painting, moth rearing, tending to his pet fish and frogs, and community service.