Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection (Borrelia burgdorferi) that is transmitted by blacklegged or“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.
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.
Erythema 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.
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.
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