Lyme disease is a bacterial illness that spreads via tick bites. The means of transmission is via the deer tick which house the spirochete bacterium (Borellia burgdorferi) in their stomachs. The organism can pass to human via a tick bite. It can cause abnormalities in the skin, heart, joints and nervous system.

Lyme disease was first identified in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut. More than 150,000 cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) since 1982. Cases have been reported from every state, although it is more commonly seen in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and Pacific Coast. Lyme disease has also been reported in European and Asian countries.

There are three phases to the disease:

Early Localized Phase. During this initial phase, the skin around the bite develops an expanding ring of redness. The ring may have a bull’s eye appearance with a bright red outer ring surrounding clear skin in the center. Most people don’t remember being bitten by a tick. More than 1 in 4 patients do not have this rash. This eruption may be accompanied by fatigue, chills, muscle and joint stiffness, swollen lymph nodes and/or headaches.

Early Disseminated Phase. Weeks to months after the rash disappears, the organism spreads throughout the body, impacting the joints, heart and nervous system. Symptoms include migrating pain in the joints, neck ache, tingling or numbing of the extremities, enlarged lymph glands, sore throat, abnormal pulse, fever, changes in vision or fatigue.

Late Dissemination Phase. Late in the dissemination of the disease, patients may experience an inflammation of the heart, which can lead to heart failure. Nervous system problems develop, such as paralysis of facial muscles (Bell’s Palsy) and diseases of the peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy). It can also cause arthritis and inflammation of the joints to appear, which manifests as swelling, stiffness and pain.

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a combination of a history of being outdoors and/or tick exposure, visual examination (the “bull’s eye rash) and a blood test for Borellia antibodies. Most cases of Lyme disease are curable using antibiotics, but the longer the delay, the more difficult the disease is to treat.

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites either by avoiding high risk areas, or wearing appropriate clothing. To avoid exposure, wear hats, long sleeves and pants. Tuck pants legs into socks or boots. Also, wearing insect repellent, especially with the ingredient DEET is very helpful. After being outdoors, do a careful visual check of each member of the party upon returning home, including dogs and cats.

If a tick is found adherent to the skin, use tweezers to disengage the tick from the skin. Grab the tick by the head or mouthparts as close as possible to where the mouth parts have entered the skin. Pull firmly and steadily away from the skin until the tick disengages. Clean the bite wound with disinfectant and monitor the bite mark. You can place the tick in a jar or plastic bag and take it to your health care provider for examination.