Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria spread by a tick bite. The disease takes its name from Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in 1975.
Today, cases of Lyme disease have been reported in nearly every state in the nation as well as areas of Europe and Asia. But it is most commonly found in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and northwestern United States.
In New Jersey, there were 5,092 reported cases of Lyme disease in 2017, the highest yearly total in nearly two decades, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because so many of its symptoms mimic other conditions. The primary initial symptom is a telltale “bulls-eye” rash at the site of the bite, but it may not be present in 20% of cases—or more.
When detected early, Lyme disease can often be effectively treated with antibiotics. The longer it is left untreated, however, more serious complications can occur, including joint inflammation, neurologic disease, heart inflammation, and eye problems.
Some people may develop post-Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS) or a condition known as chronic Lyme disease. Usually, these are characterized by persistent musculoskeletal and peripheral nerve pain, fatigue, and memory impairment.
That’s why timely accurate diagnosis and management of Lyme disease by a healthcare provider who’s knowledgeable about this serious condition is imperative.
Why Choose Cooper to Diagnose and Treat Lyme Disease
With their advanced training and experience, Cooper’s board-certified and fellowship-trained infectious disease specialists are skilled at recognizing the signs of Lyme disease, and ensuring fast, accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. You can count on Cooper for:
- Timely, accurate diagnosis: Early diagnosis is usually based on symptoms and a history of a tick bite.
- Blood testing and other lab tests generally are performed to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions
- When the disease has progressed, or patients don’t recall a tick bite, we have the expertise and resources to perform more diagnostic detective work to get to the root cause of symptoms
- A multidisciplinary team approach to care—Cooper is home to experts in more than 75 specialties, giving you access to all the expertise you need, all in one place. When it comes to Lyme disease, we work closely with Cooper’s experts in cardiology, neurology, rheumatology, ophthalmology and pain management.
Lyme Disease Causes and Risk Factors
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are spread to humans by tick bites. The ticks that carry the bacteria are:
- Black-legged deer tick (northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central U.S.)
- Western black-legged tick (Pacific coastal U.S.)
You are at higher risk for getting Lyme disease if you:
- Work or spend time outdoors in areas where these ticks are found (wooded areas, low-growing grasslands and yards)
- Have pets that go outdoors and can bring the ticks into the home
Lyme Disease Symptoms
The symptoms of Lyme disease are extensive and can vary from person to person. The primary, early symptom is a red rash that can:
- Appear several days after infection, or not at all
- Last up to several weeks
- Be very small or grow up to 12 inches across, and may resemble a "bulls-eye"
- Mimic such skin problems as hives, eczema, sunburn, poison ivy or flea bites
- Itch or feel hot, or may not be felt at all
- Disappear and reappear weeks later
Several days or weeks after a bite from an infected tick, you may have flu-like symptoms such as:
- Stiff neck
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints
- Low-grade fever and chills
- Poor appetite
- Swollen glands
Weeks to months after the bite, these symptoms may develop:
- Neurological symptoms, including inflammation of the nervous system (meningitis), and weakness and paralysis of the facial muscles (Bell’s palsy)
- Heart problems, such as inflammation of the heart (perimyocarditis) and problems with heart rate
- Eye problems, including inflammation
Months to a few years after a bite, symptoms may include:
- Inflammation of the joints (arthritis)
- Neurological symptoms including numbness in the extremities, tingling and pain, and difficulties with speech, memory and concentration
Some people may develop post-Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS) or a condition known as chronic Lyme disease. They are characterized by persistent musculoskeletal and peripheral nerve pain, fatigue, and memory impairment.
Because the symptoms of Lyme disease may look like so many other medical conditions, it’s important to see your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Preventing Lyme Disease
The most effective way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid exposure to ticks. That means avoiding the wooded areas, low-growing grasslands and yards where ticks tend to be found. And while tick season is considered to be April through October, be aware that Lyme disease is a year-round problem.
Because it’s not possible to completely avoid the outdoors, follow these guidelines to help prevent Lyme disease:
- Clothing: Wear light-colored clothing, long-sleeved shirts, socks and closed-toe shoes, and long pants with legs tucked into socks
- Check for ticks after being outdoors: Closely inspect:
- All joints, behind the knees, between fingers and toes, underarms
- Other areas where ticks are commonly found: belly button, neck, hairline, top of the head, in and behind the ears
- Anywhere that clothing presses tightly on the skin
- Visually check all other areas of the body, and run fingers gently over skin
- Be sure to check children and pets for ticks, too
- Consider using insect repellents: Products with DEET repel ticks but don’t kill them; products with permethrin kill ticks but should be sprayed only on clothing, not on your skin
- Shower after all outdoor activities are over for the day
If you find a tick:
- Don't touch the tick with your bare hand
- Use tweezers to remove the tick; grab the tick firmly by its mouth or head as close to your skin as possible
- Pull up slowly and steadily, without twisting, until it lets go; don't squeeze the tick, and don't use petroleum jelly, solvents, knives or a lit match to kill the tick
- Save the tick; place it in a plastic container or bag so it can be tested for disease, if needed
- Wash the bite area well with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic lotion or cream
- Call your healthcare provider to find out about follow-up care and testing of the tick for the Lyme disease bacteria
It’s important to know that people don’t develop immunity to Lyme disease. Even if you've had Lyme disease, you can get it again—so it’s extremely important to take every precaution to avoid exposure.