As we head into spring, it’s important that you and your family are aware of Lyme disease and the symptoms to watch out for, as Lyme disease is most common in spring and early summer. If you’re a Connecticut resident, you should be especially cautious about developing Lyme disease as it is prevalent. In fact, Connecticut is one of the 14 states that accounts for 95% of all Lyme disease cases in the U.S. Each year, approximately 30,000 Connecticut residents are diagnosed with Lyme disease.
What Causes Lyme Disease
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that Lyme disease is an inflammatory disease that is transmitted to humans from the bite of an infected blacklegged (or deer) tick. After being bitten, the bacterium (specifically Borrelia burgdorferi) of the infected tick will move through your skin into your bloodstream. In many cases, a tick must be attached to the host for 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria to the bloodstream.
A bite from an infected tick can be difficult to detect; they are no bigger than the size of a poppy seed and often found in grassy, wooded terrains. In addition, bites are often painless. After visiting this type of area, it’s important to scan your body and clothing for any blacklegged ticks. If a tick is found early enough, it may be safely removed before the infection has time to spread. The CDC outlines specific steps for how to safely remove a tick here.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease to Monitor
If Lyme disease goes untreated, the infection can spread throughout your body and pass to the joints, eyes, heart and nervous system and in a matter of days. Keep in mind, everybody is different and may have a different reaction to the bacteria from the tick. If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of the following symptoms of Lyme disease, it’s important to quickly seek medical treatment.
Early Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The early symptoms of Lyme disease are usually experienced from three to thirty days after the initial tick bite and may include:
- Rash: The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a rash, also known as erythema migrans (EM). This rash develops in up to 70-80% of Lyme disease infections and may appear on any part of the body. The tell-tale signs of EM is a bullseye-like appearance (center is red with irritation and surrounded by a lighter circle on the body) that expands gradually over the course of seven days, growing up to 12 inches in diameter.
Fevers and Chills: Flu-like symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, chills and headaches can accompany Lyme disease. However, unlike the flu, these symptoms can continue to persist and periodically return.
- Fatigue: Lyme disease commonly causes an extreme lack of energy and exhaustion, and at times be debilitating if severe enough. This feeling of tiredness can come and go for days, weeks or even months.
- Muscle and Joint Aching: This pain may be difficult to pinpoint, as muscle and joint pain can be displaced from day-to-day. If you experience the “bullseye-like” rash, it is often accompanied by body aches and pains.
- Cardiac Issues: Although this is a rare symptom of Lyme disease, which occurs in approximately 8% of adults, it is important to note because it is one of the few symptoms that can become deadly if left untreated. Lyme disease can create inflammation in the heart and cause an atrioventricular block that can slow down your heart rate and cause a feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness.
Advanced Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The CDC lists the following advanced symptoms of Lyme disease that can occur anywhere from weeks to months following the tick bite.
- Multiples Rashes: The EM rash that can occur after first developing Lyme disease can spread again in its later stages. Like the initial rash, it can spread to anywhere on the body.
- Facial Palsy: If the infection reaches facial nerve tissue, it can cause facial palsy, or paralysis on one side or both sides of the face. This occurs in approximately 5% of Lyme disease patients and usually presents itself in seven to twenty-one days after getting bitten from an infected tick.
- Arthritis: The intermittent joint and muscle pain experienced in the early on-set of Lyme disease can worsen in the later stages and even develop into arthritis, particularly in large joints such as the knee. If left untreated, 50-60% of patients with Lyme disease will develop arthritis.
- Lyme Meningitis: Inflammation can reach the meninges (tissue covering the brain and spinal cord) and cause a multitude of symptoms, such as severe headaches, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity. At this stage, the infection has reached the nervous system. Approximately 10% of adults who leave Lyme disease untreated develop meningitis.
The good news is that most cases of Lyme disease can be effectively treated with the use of antibiotics and/or intravenous therapy. If you are displaying any of these signs and symptoms and have recently visited a wooded area, your doctor may recommend testing you for Lyme disease; these tests can include a neurological exam, electromyography and blood tests.
If you’re in Connecticut and would like to find a doctor near you, you can locate a board-certified PACT primary care physician using our searchable list here.