Although reports of Lyme disease outbreaks regularly make the news, the CDC believes that there are actually 10 times the number of people (approximately 300,000) infected by the tick-borne disease throughout the US each year.
“This is a large part of the problem,” stated agency researcher Paul Mead. “Unless it is diagnosed and treated within 72 hours, a Lyme disease infection can spread throughout the body, causing damage to both heart and brain, and (sometimes) leading to chronic fatigue,” he warned. Symptoms, however, may take 1-4 weeks before they become evident.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks.
The most prevalent sign that someone has been infected is the appearance of a small, red bump surrounded by a bull's-eye pattern, with a red outer ring surrounding a clear area at the site of the bite. The rash, called erythema migrans, can also appear in several places on the body. It is generally accompanied by flu-like symptoms including body aches, headache, fever and chills.
After 1-4 months patients may also develop severe joint pain and swelling, especially in the knees, although the soreness can “shift from one joint to another.” While some people may also develop irregular heartbeats, inflammation of the eyes and/or hepatitis within weeks after being bitten.
Neurological problems can also occur within weeks, months or even years after being infected, leading to Bell’s palsy (temporary paralysis to one side of the face), numbness or weakness in arms and legs, as well as impaired muscle agility, and finally meningitis (inflammation of the membranes).
Although not every deer tick bite will result in Lyme disease, it is best to see a doctor whenever one occurs. For more information about the disease, readers can contact their local department of health, as well as thr CDC at 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30333 800 232-4636.