Lyme disease is now known as the fastest growing bacterial disease in the USA.
With the dramatic rise in reported cases of Lyme disease, the public are increasingly asking “What is Lyme disease?”. Apart from a recent increase in News broadcast warnings, you may be unfamiliar with Lyme disease and how common it is actually becoming. That’s because most people are quite unaware of the risk, how easy it is to become infected, and what you should be doing to prevent it.
According to the CDC, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year, but it is suspected that an upward of 300,000 cases are treated annually .
While those numbers are startling, it is even more startling that 20% of people surveyed weren’t aware that they were at risk for Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases . The good news is that preventing Lyme disease only takes a few steps when you are headed outdoors and being well informed on what Lyme disease actually is, can help you be prepared.
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What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is commonly referred to as an infection caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi that is transmitted into the blood through the bite of an infected black legged tick.
That being said, this simplistic definition does not reflect the true nature of this multifaceted, complex and often misunderstood illness that is also known as ‘The great imitator’ for its ability to mimic many other illnesses including autoimmune disorders .
More recently, it has been uncovered that Lyme disease related bacterium can also be carried and spread by fleas, chiggers, mosquitoes and spiders, however, their ability to transmit the disease is currently unknown, with further research desperately needed . Research is also proving that it may also be sexually transmitted.
This emerging illness is often accompanied by related co-infections such as Babesia, Ehrlichia and Anaplasma and it is stated that 80% of patients carry at least one co-infection . The Borrelia bacteria itself can change its cell shape (from spirochete or spiral shape to a round body or to a cyst form) proving it very difficult to detect any Borrelia antibodies and to find the most appropriate antibiotic protocol. In addition, these bacteria can build a protective matrix, known as a biofilm further complicating the process of treatment.
There are four main stages of Lyme Disease that are commonly referred to in the scientific literature:
1. Early Localized Lyme Disease Symptoms: Stage 1
2. Early Disseminated Lyme Disease Symptoms: Stage 2
3. Late Disseminated Lyme Disease Symptoms: Stage 3
4. Persistent or Chronic Lyme Disease (also referred to as Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome)
For further information on the Stages of the infection and Lyme disease symptoms, take a look at our detailed post here:
The most common and noticeable symptoms of Lyme disease include headaches, fever, fatigue, and the most notable, a visible rash on the skin known as Erythema Migrans. If at any point within months of having a tick bite you notice these reoccurring symptoms, seek medical advice.
For the majority of people who have been infected with Lyme disease, it is very much treatable if detected early. In some cases, the infected will experience chronic Lyme disease or Post Treatment Lyme disease Syndrome. If Lyme disease is left untreated, it can spread through the body, affecting the muscles, joints, heart, lungs, neurological system over time.
Lyme disease diagnosis is done in a clinic and there are several tests available. These tests are used in conjunction with symptoms and the patients history. Given that some people with the disease actually test negative, it is critical that both you and your doctor are fully educated.
Chronic Lyme Disease:
Chronic Lyme disease, also referred to as Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome (PLDS) or more correctly Persistent Lyme Disease, refers to patients who have non-specific symptoms after undergoing treatment for Lyme disease. The treatment of Chronic Lyme disease is highly debated, and studies have shown that using long term Antibiotic therapy can be ineffective and potentially more harmful than beneficial, potentially causing the bacteria in your gut to become out of balance (gut dysbiosis) and supercharging the symptoms further . The symptoms of Chronic Lyme disease are the same symptoms you may experience with any case of Lyme disease and typically lasting 6 months or more after the initial treatment period.
Unfortunately for those who are affected by Chronic Lyme disease, the path to recovery and treatment remain unclear. The most common and the only option in conventional medicine is prolonged Antibiotic treatment (which can be both inefficient and potentially harmful as previously mentioned) and over the counter medications. Some people prefer natural therapies to treat Lyme disease, which can be used on their own or to support and enhance conventional options. For most people with Chronic Lyme disease, they see a decrease in symptoms over time, however, it may take years before a full recovery is made.
The cause for these lingering symptoms remains unknown in conventional medicine. However, there are practitioners who are fully aware of the determining factors involved in developing chronic Lyme disease. These factors include:
- immune deficiencies;
- nutritional deficiencies;
- hormonal dysregulation;
- heavy metal toxicity;
- parasite/mold exposures;
- chronic inflammation; and
- systemic infections/viral infections.
Dr Rau, a biological doctor based in Switzerland views Lyme disease as not a distinct disease as such but more of a set of symptoms that is directly correlated to poor immunity. He goes as far as stating that even though one may test positive to Borrelia bacteria, it is not the causative reason for the disease .
It has been estimated that 90% of healthy, robust loggers in the Swiss forests carry the Borrelia bacteria and none of them express any symptoms of Lyme disease .
Clearly, we have a long way to go in understanding the true cause of Lyme disease and how we can treat it most effectively…
How To Prevent Lyme Disease:
Everyone is susceptible to Lyme disease and other tick-borne disease, including young children and family pets. When It comes to safeguarding yourself and your family against Lyme disease, you have several options, most of which are most effective when they are combined. No one method is a 100% guarantee that you can prevent tick-borne diseases, however, a combination of methods should give you a relative peace of mind that you and your family are protected.
If you are an outdoorsy type, live in a highly wooded area, or spend any amount of time outdoors in an area that isn’t completely free of tall grasses, trees or bushes you are at a higher risk of encountering a tick or bringing one home with you.
Some of the best options for preventing tick bites include:
- Firstly, boosting your immune system and reducing systemic inflammation to minimize the potential effects of any Lyme infection.
- Treating family pets with a medicated tick repellent or other preventative recommended by your vet. Even if you don’t feel a tick on your pet, they could still hitch a ride indoors during even the quickest outdoor breaks.
- Avoid areas that have high grass, low hanging trees, or are extremely wooded. When walking, always stay to the center of the trail as much as possible to avoid these areas. It is particularly important for pregnant women to avoid tick prone areas.
- Use an insect repellent during every outing. A repellent that contains a minimum of 20% DEET, Picardin, or IR3535 is commonly recommended for all exposed skin. However, you may want to adopt a more natural approach to avoid the harmful toxins in the insecticides. Tea Tree, eucalyptus or rosemary oil are non-toxic alternatives that are also safe to use on your pets.
- Pre-treating all clothing and gear with Permethrin to avoid any tag along that may make entry into your home, tent, or sleeping bag.
- At the end of outdoor outings or trips, shower as soon as possible and perform a full body check. Remember that ticks also get into the scalp and can attach to most areas of the body. Children and pets should also be checked after a period outdoors.
- Placing clothing in a dryer on tumble for 10-minutes should kill any hidden ticks that could attach to you at a later point.
For further advice on how to prevent tick bites and Lyme disease à See our article “Five Essential Steps on How to Prevent Lyme disease”
What To Do If You Find a Tick:
If you find a tick the best thing to do is stay calm. Ticks can be easily removed with a clean pair of tweezers. You simply grab the tick as close to your body/its head as possible and pull up. Kill the tick by flushing it, submerging in alcohol, or a sealed container where it will suffocate. It is important to never try to crush a tick with your hands.
While it may be tempting, testing of the tick is not necessary. Even if the tick were to test positive for Lyme disease, it would not necessarily mean that you contracted the disease.
If you have contracted Lyme disease, symptoms should appear from 3-30 days after a tick bite.
Be sure to inform your Doctor of any signs or symptoms and the date of your bite.
The seemingly sudden increase in reported Lyme disease cases is enough to make anyone reconsider a wildlife adventure or camping trip, but understanding what Lyme disease is, is the first step in preventative measures.
Staying informed on your local tick population and cases of reported Lyme disease is also a better way to stay informed and know the risk. Ticks are most active during warm weather, with May-July being peak season in the United States.
Having a good understanding of “what is Lyme disease?”, gives you a leg up on making a well-informed decision if or when you encounter a potentially infected tick.
 McFadzean, N., 2012. Lyme Disease in Australia: Fundamentals of an Emerging Epidemic. Published by Biomed Publishing Group in the United States, October 2012, 400 pp.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Lyme Disease Advice or its staff.