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What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a systemic infection from a deer tick bite.   It is increasingly common in the northeast, mid-Atlantic region, and upper mid-west.  Anyone who passes through tick habitats such as meadows, woods and brushy areas is at risk.  The Centers for Disease Control expects 15,000 new cases of Lyme disease this year.  Peak season for exposure is between May and September.

Deer ticks are tiny -- about the size of a pinhead.  It takes about 48 hours for the bacteria from an infected tick to get into the circulation of the host; fortunately, most ticks fall off before this point.  If infected, about 75% of people will develop the classic round, red spot called the bull's eye rash.  Other symptoms may vary widely and may include chills, fever, headache, weakness, muscle, and joint pain.  In patients without the rash, these symptoms are easy to attribute to many other causes.

If untreated, the symptoms may resolve.  However, about half of these patients may go on to develop painful Lyme arthritis and other serious long term complications such as irregular heart rhythms, memory disturbances, and facial palsies.

If recognized and treated with antibiotics early on, Lyme disease is usually cured.  As with most conditions, however, prevention is the better course.

Created: 4/24/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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