What is Lymes Disease?
Lymes disease is a bacterial infection that was first noticed in 1975 in the Lyme area of Connecticut, USA. A number of children had contacted rheumatoid arthritis, initiating a research into the problem those kids were facing. Their condition came to be known as the Lyme disease. It took the researchers three years to learn that it is a tick-borne disease and another three to know the exact cause of the disease.
The culprit was found to be a certain type of bacteria (Borrelia Burghdorferi) which is a blood-sucking parasite that usually lives off deer. Commonly called the wood tick, it can be found in many areas, though it has special affinity for forests inhabited by deer. Some species of ticks found on deer carry this bacterium in their stomach. On the human body, these ticks can settle anywhere, though dark, moist and warm places like armpits or the area between the legs are at higher risk. Once these ticks settle down, they bite their host and when they do so, they transmit this deadly disease.
The ticks themselves are mere transmitters or vectors. Not all ticks found on deer carry the infection causing bacteria. In some areas of USA where maximum cases of Lymes disease are reported, more than half the ticks are found to be carriers.
Today, three species of Lymes disease causing bacteria have been identified, one of which is found in the USA and the other two are found in Europe. Cases of Lymes disease, however, have been reported from around the world including Japan, China, Russia and Australia.
Lymes disease is not contagious i.e. it can not be spread from one infected person to another.
Initial symptoms of Lymes disease include fatigue, fever, a feeling of sadness and emotional disturbance, accompanied by a skin rash which has a typical circular pattern. The rash usually has a ‘bull’s eye’ pattern. At this stage, antibiotics can come to the affected person’s rescue and cure him causing no long-term complications at all.
Failure to take timely action can affect the heart, joints and the nervous system as well. These symptoms, which are indicative of a deeper rooted malady, may be difficult to treat.
Lyme disease may infect people without the appearance of any of these symptoms though more than 90% of the cases reported in USA carry one or more of these symptoms. Cases of asymptomatic infection are more common in Europe.
Most Lymes disease patients can be treated effectively with antibiotics. The antibiotic required would depend upon the affected part of the body and the stage of the disease.
In early stages, oral medicines like cefuroxime axetil, amoxicillin and doxycycline have been known to be helpful. Kids below 8 years of age and pregnant women would do well to avoid doxycycline.
In later stages, more advanced and ‘stronger’ intravenous drugs like penicillin-G and ceftriaxone might be required.
To provide relief from some of the pain accompanying the rash, pain-killers might be needed. Local analgesics help get rid of most of the inflammation.
Preventing Lymes disease
The best known method of preventing Lymes disease is to stay away from tick-infested areas.
If you must visit such areas, protect yourself from ticks. Use insect-repellent ointments and sprays. You must also pay special attention to your clothes when you visit such areas. Wear full-sleeved blouses with full-length trousers tucked into shoes so that the ticks can not get attached to your skin. Prefer light colored clothing, since the ticks can be seen more easily against lighter colors.
After getting back home from a tick-infested area, have a thorough bath with a medicated soap and wear fresh clothes after that.
Check your pets, clothes and kids regularly for ticks. In case they are found, remove them gently with tweezers. If you want to get the ticks checked later for the presence of Lyme disease carrying bacteria, the ticks should be stored in a jar.
A vaccine was earlier available for protection against Lymes disease but the manufacturer discontinued producing it for commercial use in 2002.