Transmission and Prevention of Lyme Disease
Lyme Disease is a disease transmitted by ticks containing the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. In the Northeastern region of the United States the blacklegged tick or deer tick has been known to carry this infectious bacterium. Most humans are infected through the bites of immature nymphs (2 mm) that bite humans in hard-to-see areas such as the armpit, groin, and scalp. Once bitten the Lyme disease bacterium takes approximately 36 to 48 hours to be transmitted to the host, so the earlier the tick is removed the less of a risk the host has for contracting Lymes.
Lyme disease cannot be transmitted through person-to-person contact such as touching, kissing, etc. It also cannot be transmitted from animals to their owners, however animals can carry diseased ticks into homes, backyards, or areas where their owners frequent and thus increase their risk of getting bitten. If a pregnant mother is bitten by a Lyme disease tick, and it is gone unnoticed, the risk of pregnancy complications becomes heightened and stillbirth can be a possibility. However, if the bite is noticed and appropriate antibiotics are taken, the fetus will not be negatively affected in any way.
There are multiple ways to prevent contracting Lyme disease, such as avoiding woody or bushy areas with long grass where ticks often reside. If you know you will be in a woody area wear closed shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves. It is important that after you’ve been in a woody area you check your body for ticks. It often takes a few hours for ticks to find their area of attachment, so if found before it is extremely easy to get rid of them. If you do venture into a woody area it is also important to wear insect repellents, DEET for example, and to avoid straying from trails into long grassed areas.
If bitten, remove a tick as soon as possible with tweezers. Try and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible (near the tick’s head or mouth), then pull up with the tweezers. Try not twist or jerk the tweezers because this can accidentally leave the tick’s mouth in the skin. After removing the tick, wipe the area with alcohol and soap. Once the tick has been removed, dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet or wrapping it in tape. DO NOT try and crush the tick with your fingers! Most importantly, once the tick is removed get tested for Lyme disease. Even if you have previously had the disease you are not immune and can get it again!
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Research done by Ms. Jennifer Duffy
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is an infection transmitted to humans by ticks that are infected with a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The ticks get this bacteria by feeding on deer who carry the bacteria. Rising deer populations in the northeast of the US is contributing to the increasing cases of humans Lyme disease.
While the deer and ticks do not suffer from any adverse symptoms brought on by the B. burgdorferi bacteria, infected humans often report a variety of harmful symptoms such as fatigue, neck-stiffness, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, and muscle and joint pain. As the disease progresses, people may experience skin rashes, and even nerve problems and arthritis.
Some of the neurological complications brought on by Lyme disease include temporary paralysis of facial muscles, numbness, pain/weakness of the limbs, and impaired coordination. Memory loss and changes in mood, sleeping habits, concentration are other subtle signs of the disease. These symptoms are usually late to develop if the disease goes untreated.
After several weeks of being infected without treatment by antibiotics, sufferers of Lyme disease often report reoccurring attacks of stiff, painful and/or swollen joints, especially the knees. Approximately 10-20% of untreated cases go on to develop long-lasting arthritis. Rarely, people with Lyme disease experience heart problems including irregular or slow heartbeat often accompanied by dizziness and shortness of breath.
Luckily, antibiotics administered orally or, for more severe cases, intravenously can effectively treat Lyme disease. Usually, the sooner the treatment is received, the quicker and more complete the recovery will be.
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Research done by Ms. Emily Demino
Diagnosing Lyme Disease
Diagnosing Lyme disease is problematic due to the nature of the symptoms. Since the disease has symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, joint pain, and fatigue, which are associated with many diseases, misdiagnoses are not uncommon. To compound that, the most characteristic symptom of Lyme disease, a circular red rash called erythema migrans, does not appear on every individual affected by the disease; one quarter of people who have the disease do not present with this telltale sign.
One of the most common tests done to diagnose Lyme disease is a Lyme antibody test. This test detects measureable levels of antibodies that show that the person has been exposed to B. burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes the disease. However, it can take up to a few weeks for the body to build up enough antibodies in order to be detected. This prevents a roadblock in early detection due to the possibility of a false negative test result. A false negative result can prevent early detection and thus defer early treatment that is imperative for it to be effective.
Currently, most health care providers use a two-step testing process to diagnose a patient with Lyme disease. The results of these tests in combination with the patient’s symptoms can determine whether the disease is affecting them. The first of the two tests performed is an enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA). ELISA is a blood test that detects antibodies in the body; this test does not check specifically for B. burgdorferi. If a positive result is obtained from this first test, it indicates that the person may have Lyme disease, either a current or a past infection. If the results were negative, no further testing would be performed, as the chances of the person having Lyme disease would be very low. With a positive result from ELISA, the patient would then move on to the Western Blot test. Western Blot is a more specific test, meaning that if the results are positive, the person is affected by B. burgdorferi, and therefore will be diagnosed with Lyme disease.
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Research done by Ms. Jessica L. Silvestri
Treatment of Lyme Disease
If Lyme disease is caught early in its progression, it can be treated easily with oral antibiotics. Typically prescribed as a 14- or 21-day course, antibiotics used for adults include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime. (Slightly different antibiotics may be used in children.) When Lyme disease progresses beyond its early stages, treatment becomes trickier than an oral course. For example, if symptomology suggests central nervous system involvement (an indication that the disease has progressed beyond its early stages), antibiotics may be administered intravenously instead of orally. Intravenous administration allows the body to process greater doses more quickly because the drugs are immediately entering the bloodstream rather than passing through the wall of the gut.
Symptoms may persist even after the infection is eliminated, but if Lyme disease is treated quickly recovery is usually swift and complete. If symptoms such as muscle aches or fatigue do persist, further antibiotic treatment has no mitigating effect. While more research is needed, it has been suggested that persisting Lyme symptoms may be due to an autoimmune response to the disease.
Oral antibiotics may be prescribed preventatively if it is certain that a patient has suffered a tick bite and if it has 1) been positively identified as a deer tick, 2) attached to the host for at least 36 hours, and 3) if the person has been in a region where there is a high risk of contracting Lyme disease.
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Research done by Ms. Christina Perri