What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious condition caused by a spirochete (a bacterium shaped like a corkscrew) called Borrelia burgdorferi, spread by ticks.
Because of its unspecific symptoms, it is hard to diagnose and easy to mistake for other diseases, a reason why the specialists sometimes refer to it as “the great pretender”. It has been identified in both humans and animals, particularly those with fur, which usually carry ticks.
Lyme disease got its name from the place where it was first identified – Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1977.
It all started when two concerned mothers decided to track down the source of an unexplained increase in the number of cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and ended up finding a new disease.
Since then, the condition has proven more common than initially considered, and thousands of Lyme disease articles have been written and published.
Considering the time of year and the areas where the outbreaks occurred, the specialists soon linked the disease to a certain type of tick, commonly found among deer.
As the investigation progressed, they also realized that the infection had both early and late phases involving rashes and other dermatological symptoms, and, without the proper treatment, it could affect the nervous system, eyes, heart, joints (hence the confusion made in earlier studies with arthritis), and, in the most severe cases, it has even been linked to meningitis.
Nowadays, this infection can be detected very easily. If you have the classic bull’s eye rash and you inform your physician that you’ve been exposed to contact with ticks (either by walking in woods or through pets, which may have carried the ticks inside the home), no further tests are necessary and doctor will probably guess of Lyme disease immediately. If you are not sure, a simple blood test is usually enough.
The treatment of Lyme Disease continues with two or three weeks of antibiotics.
Despite what you may have read in Lyme disease articles available in libraries and on the Internet, the disease is fully curable and leaves no long-term side effects, if the right treatment is used early on.
Except for antibiotics, there aren’t any other effective solutions, so you should see a physician at the very first symptoms and follow the treatment accordingly.
Lyme disease is quite common in the United States these days, with hundreds of thousands of cases diagnosed every year, and the number of diagnoses of Lyme Disease is also increasing in Europe (possibly because of atmospheric changes which allow ticks to thrive in many areas).
Also, it has been registered more often among children than adults. As usual, it’s better to prevent the infection than to treat the disease, so specialists recommend caution when living, walking or camping in areas infested by ticks.
Using insect repellant is a good idea since the bacteria can enter your system only through tick bites, and it cannot spread from one infected human to another, or from sick animals to humans.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
There are various Lyme disease symptoms, and many of them are common with other health issues, making the problem very difficult to diagnose and treat.
The rash is usually the first symptom and 75% – 87% of cases begin with a rash. The following are a few ways to identify Lyme Disease symptoms and rash:
- The rash will usually surround the spot of the tick bite. This is not always the case but the majority of cases where a rash is present it will present itself near the infected area.
- The size of the ring will vary depending on how a persons body reacts to the Borrelia burgdoferi but will usually be around 4-6 inches in diameter.
- It will appear anywhere from 4 to 31 days after the initial bug bite.
- The rash will remain for about 2.5 to 6 weeks after transmission of the bacteria.
- The rash appears to look like a bulls-eye. In many cases the rash will appear as a ring around the area of the tick bite.
- The area around the rash and the rash itself could be warm to the touch but usually not painful.
Ticks will attack any part of the body but usually will bite where creases appear such as the groin, back of the neck or knee and the armpit. These should be the first place you look for Lyme disease symptoms. Keep in mind that other rashes may appear on various parts of the body after being infected and not necessarily surrounding the bite from the tick, however in most cases, a rash will appear on or near the bite.
Other Lyme Disease symptoms will appear shortly after you begin to notice a rash. These symptoms include fever, fatigue, joint pain, and chills.
In the beginning, these symptoms may not appear serious however they will progress as the time passes if not treated.
As Lyme Disease progresses and the spirochete (bacteria) spreads throughout the body other Lyme Disease symptoms will begin to occur. You may have severe fatigue, stiff neck, and the nervous system may cause numbness in extremities and could be as serious as facial paralysis.
The most severe Lyme Disease symptoms can appear months or even years after being infected. These symptoms are painful arthritis, heart conditions, and joint swelling. Below are a few symptoms that are found in various stages.
Acute Stage Lyme Disease Symptoms
- The lymph glands can begin to swell near the tick bite.
- Ring like rash around the infected bite.
- Headache will usually occur. If you suffer from chronic headaches and have been bitten by a tick, this symptom can sometimes be overlooked.
- You will also begin to have aches and pains that were not present in the past.
Lyme Disease Symptoms – Early Dissemination Stage
- You will begin to notice pains in your joints.
- Multiple rashes will appear away from the initial bite.
- You will experience headaches and a stiff neck.
- You will have severe fatigue and may begin to notice changes in your vision.
- You could have the onset of facial paralysis.
- Numbness and tingling in your fingers and toes.
- You may being to have sore throats and fevers.
Late Stage Lyme Disease Symptoms
- You will begin to experience severe numbness in your legs and arms.
- Severe arthritis and swelling will begin to appear in the joints.
- Neurological disorders could appear. These symptoms include dizziness, confusion, mental blurriness, disorientation and lack of concentration
If you are experiencing any of the above Lyme Disease symptoms, please visit a physician as soon as possible.
Treatment of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is somewhat difficult to identify, but, caught in an early phase, Lyme disease treatment is clear and well established, and highly effective.
In other words, even if the condition was discovered recently and the symptoms are still somewhat controversial, the scientists have found the cures for Lyme disease, and they work in most cases, including the ones that have become chronic.
Before beginning the Lyme disease treatment, some tests are usually required.
In patients who get the bull’s eye rash, and confirm that they may have been in contact with ticks, most doctors will start the treatment without further evidence.
In other cases, blood tests are needed. These are usually correct, but there have been few situations of false diagnoses (patients whose results returned positive, but who, in fact, did not have the infection).
Spinal Tap / Lumbar Puncture
Another method of diagnosing Lyme disease is a spinal tap or lumbar puncture – a procedure which establishes if the central nervous system has been infected.
Spinal fluid is taken from the base of the patient’s spine. The procedure is completely safe and causes no side-effects, except for some bad headaches for a few days.
Treatment with Antibiotics
Lyme disease treatment is based on antibiotics. If the disease is identified at an early stage, doxycycline is recommended for periods of 10 to 21 days for both children and adults, in doses of maximum 100 mg, taken orally, every 12 hours.
In some situations, it may be replaced by amoxicillin. For later phases (including chronic arthritis, cardiac and neurological manifestations), the cures for Lyme disease are based on stronger antibiotics, such as benzylpenicillin or ceftriaxone.
Both of them are powders for injections, and the treatment takes 14 to 21 days.
The Lyme disease recovery period may reach up to six months. Usually, patients respond well to the treatment and, when a failure occurs, a change of antibiotics is usually enough to solve it.
Multiple courses of antibiotics are not recommended – most specialists will rather perform more tests for other unidentified causes for the same symptoms.
Sometimes, post-treatment symptoms, such as fibromyalgia, may be registered because of the slow Lyme disease recovery period, but there may also be other hidden infections in the organism.
Taking too many antibiotics may have serious side-effects, such as gastrointestinal diseases or super-infections with other bacteria or fungi. Needless to say, the antibiotics courses are taken only with the doctor’s prescription.
Lyme Disease Vaccine
A vaccine has been recently developed for Lyme disease. The vaccine uses the person’s immune system to kill the spirochete that spreads the infection in the tick, before it can actually enter the human organism.
A person needs to take a 3-course session for the vaccine to work, and it is 85% effective. Still, because it is a new development, it’s not clear whether boosters are required or not, or how often it should be taken.
The vaccine is recommended only for people working in high-risk conditions and should not replace the prevention measures, such as using insect repellant when living in tick-infested areas.
In the end, the most important thing one needs to remember is that the Lyme disease treatment is safe and effective, and it works better if the disease is diagnosed in an early phase before it has a chance to become chronic.
Lyme Disease in Dogs | Symptoms | Treatment
Lyme disease in dogs is caused by the same bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, as in humans, and the bacteria is spread by the same type of deer ticks.
The symptoms usually include lameness, lymph node swelling in the limb affected and high fever.
Symptoms of Canine Lyme Disease in Dogs
Since many of the symptoms of Lyme Disease are rather generalized, it is entirely possible that this disease may be misdiagnosed when initially brought to a veterinarian’s attention.
The first visible symptoms of Lyme Disease may occur several weeks or months after a dog has become infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Many of these symptoms have a cyclic pattern and may reoccur several times during the progression of this disease.
Limping or Lameness
This is by far the most common symptom of Lyme Disease in dogs. A dog with Lyme Disease will exhibit arthritis-like symptoms in the early stages of this disease, which will often cause Lyme Disease to be mis-diagnosed as an arthritic condition. However, combined with other symptoms, it may be plausible to obtain a positive diagnosis for Lyme Disease after this symptom develops.
It’s possible for the visible limping to shift from limb to limb over a period of time, or to vary in terms of intensity and localization. If treatment for Lyme Disease is not started during this time, the lameness may seem to disappear, only to reoccur some time later.
The typical fever for a dog being affected with Lyme Disease is usually anywhere between 103 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a very common symptom of dogs in early stages of Lyme Disease, though may also be indicative of other medical conditions. However, a fever is very hard to detect in a dog, though may also be present among several other symptoms. The best way to “touch-test” a dog for a possible fever is to feel your dog.
Loss of Interest in Food
A dog with Lyme Disease will sometimes seem to lose interest in anything food related, or may refuse to eat altogether. This is also a symptom that could possibly be indicative of many other health conditions besides Lyme Disease. If ignored, this symptom can lead to other symptoms associated with anorexia, including malnutrition, loss of hair, skin discoloration and lethargy.
Severe Muscle Pain
In advanced stages of Lyme Disease, a dog will begin to experience severe, debilitating muscle pain. This is different from the arthritis-like symptom that occurs early in Lyme Disease. Advanced Lyme Disease may result in pain that is not simply localized to the joints or limbs. If this occurs, it may mean that Lyme Disease has progressed into an advanced stage in which it’s causing severe neurological damage that may be unable to be repaired.
Lymphadenopathy is a symptom in which a dog’s lymph noes become swollen or enlarged. Technically, the term “Lymphadenopathy” means “disease of the lymph nodes”. Some dogs that are being affected with Lyme Disease will show this symptom, though it’s usually accompanied by one or many other symptoms of Lyme Disease.
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease in Dogs
The diagnosis is not easy to establish, and, for most Lyme disease dogs, the blood test is not enough and the veterinarian has to evaluate the symptoms and the dog’s history as well.
A special blood test is required for dogs who were previously vaccinated, in order to differentiate the infection from the response of the organism.
One of the major issues with canine Lyme disease is that in many cases there are no symptoms, and the dog looks perfectly healthy until the infection spreads and reaches the heart, the kidneys or the nervous system.
Treatment of Canine Lyme Disease in Dogs
The treatment involves antibiotics, such as doxycycline, for a period of three to four weeks. If the condition is diagnosed correctly and in time, the recovery is quick, and most Lyme disease dogs will show an improvement after the first two or three days of treatment.
However, the disease may return after several months, in which case the animal should re-start the antibiotic therapy, probably for a longer period of time.
Aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to keep the pain under control, but these have no effect on the causes of the disease.
Also, Lyme disease in dogs may leave the joints painful long after the treatment is over, and some other damage may be non-reversible as well.
Vaccine for Lyme Disease in Dogs
A vaccine has been developed for Lyme disease in dogs, but its use is somewhat controversial and recommended only for animals who live in high-risk areas, so make sure you discuss this issue with the veterinarian.
The best method of preventing the condition is to prevent the tick bite, by using insect repellant collars, or by checking the dog regularly and removing the insects when found.
When you find a tick, use tweezers to remove it, pulling straight upwards. Do not attempt to take it off using the bare hands.
When the dog has been in woods or long grass, brush and comb the fur regularly, and use shampoos that kill the insects. It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves when performing this operation, since the tick can also transmit the same type of disease to humans.
Lyme disease in dogs is curable, but you must take the pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible. As with all disease, prevention is a better solution than treatment. Also, bear in mind that the disease is not contagious, it can only be spread by ticks, and not from an infected dog to another or from sick dogs to humans.
Lyme Disease in Horses (Equine)
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness caused by a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are spread by a tick, commonly called the deer tick, and can infect pets, horses, cattle, as well as humans. Lyme disease in horses is quite common for animals living in high-risk areas.
Equine Lyme disease is not easy to identify, as less than 10% of the horses will show any symptoms at all. The most common symptoms are lameness and changes in the animal’s behavior.
Usually, you will see the animal shifting frequently from limb to limb, and showing signs of a general stiffness. The horse can also show signs of irritability and refuse to work.
Lyme disease in horses is a tricky diagnosis even for experienced veterinarians, since these animals are prone to muscle and joint injuries, so it’s difficult to relate such problems immediately to a bacterial infection.
Also, the blood test can only show that the animal has been exposed to the bacteria and that its immune system reacted, but this doesn’t mean that the disease has been triggered.
The only treatment available is based on antibiotics, and it takes several weeks. The good news is that, if equine Lyme disease is diagnosed correctly, the animal responds quickly to the treatment, and the first signs of improvement can be seen in 2 to 5 days.
If there is no quick response, it’s most likely that the diagnosis was not correct in the first place, and the horse has some other problem. One can also use anti-inflammatory drugs against the pain and stiffness and stomach medicine to help the horse cope with the antibiotic treatment – these are useful but have no influence on the infection itself.
At present, there is no licensed vaccine for equine Lyme disease, but, since vaccines have been developed for dogs and one also exists for humans, there are hopes that one for hoses will follow shortly.
Until then, the only prevention method is tick control. The animal needs frequent grooming and all the ticks have to be removed quickly.
On horses, the ticks are most likely to be found on the head, throat, stomach or under the tail. Use tweezers to remove the ticks, pulling straight upwards in order to make sure you remove the insect completely; otherwise, mouthparts of the tick may remain embedded in the animal and infection is still possible.
The ticks need to be on the animal for 12 to 24 hours before they can transmit the infection. Also, you can check with the veterinarian about the use of tick repellants; those based on chemical permethrin are particularly effective.
Is Equine Lyme Disease Contagious?
Equine Lyme disease is not contagious, and one sick animal cannot infect the rest. However, an infected animal is a sign that there are ticks in the area, and that the others are at risk as well.