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Lyme Disease: Frequently Asked Questions

Lyme Disease: Frequently Asked QuestionsTop of Page

What is Lyme Disease?

 Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection (Borrelia burgdorferi) that is transmitted by blacklegged A close up picture of a deer tick on a blade of glassor“deer” ticks. These ticks are usually found in wooded or grassy areas and have complex life cycles. Blacklegged ticks can spread other tick-borne diseases in addition to Lyme disease, including babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Lyme disease has increased dramatically since it was first discovered in 1975 and the disease has become an important public health problem in some areas of the United States, including Massachusetts.

The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.

How long must a tick be attached before it can cause disease?

In general, ticks need to be attached more than 24 hours before they can transmit the Lyme disease bacterium.

When are the ticks active? I don’t have to worry in the winter do I?

 Most cases of Lyme disease are transmitted during the months of May, June and July. Ticks remain active all year, including winter as long as the ground not frozen.

Click here for more information on the life cycle of ticks


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What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Symptoms typically include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. Some people never develop a bull’s eye rash. Some people only develop arthritis, and for others nervous system problems are the only symptom of Lyme disease.

Some signs and symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until weeks, months, or years after a tick bite. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

For more information, see this Lyme symptom checklist from the Lyme Disease Association:

What is Erythema migrans?

A rash on a leg from a tickErythema migrans (EM) is a red, expanding rash that sometimes appears at the site of the tick bite. This rash is seen in about 70-80% of people with Lyme. Note: A small bump or redness at the site of a tick bite that goes away in 1-2 days, like a mosquito bite is not a sign of Lyme disease.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed and treated?

Physicians use symptoms, physical findings (e.g. rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks to make a diagnosis. Blood tests are also commonly done. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.

What can I do to keep from getting Lyme disease? 

The best way to prevent Lyme Disease is to protect yourself and your family from tick bites. The TickEncounter website recommends 5 actions to keep your family safe:

  1. Know what ticks are active;
  2. Perform daily tick checks;
  3. Turn clothing into tick repellent clothes;
  4. Treat your yard to eliminate tick habitats; and
  5. Protect your pets with products that kill ticks.

The CDC also provides excellent information on how to prevent tick bites.

What is Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome?

A small percentage of people treated for Lyme disease (about 10 to 20%) have lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches. In some cases, these can last for more than 6 months. Often called "chronic Lyme disease," this condition is properly known as "Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome" (PTLDS). The exact cause of PTLDS is not yet known and there are differing opinions about how best to treat this condition. Regardless of the cause or treatment regimen being followed, PTLDS can affect how school children learn. If your child has been diagnosed with PTLDS, contact his/her school nurse to develop a health care plan.

For more information, see the following resources:

TickEncounter Resource Center

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center

International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society

Lyme Disease Association