Conditions InDepth: Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection resulting from the bite of an infected tick. The most common type of tick that carries the bacteria is the tiny deer tick, or black–legged tick, which is about the size of a poppy seed. Another tick thought to spread the disease is the lone star tick.

A tick picks up the Lyme disease bacteria, called Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) , when it bites an animal that is infected with it. These bacteria are classified as spirochetes because of their spiral shape.

When an infected tick attaches to you and maintains contact with your blood, the bacteria can travel from the tick’s gut to your bloodstream. Once the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can move to different parts of the body. Common sites of infection include the skin, joints, muscles, nerve tissue, and distant skin sites. Ticks are most likely to transfer the infection to you after being in contact with your blood for two or more days.

More than 177,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in the US since 1980. The disease is concentrated in certain parts of the country where both the ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria and the mice, deer, and chipmunks that the ticks live on are common. Although Lyme disease is most frequently associated with the Northeast United States, it has been reported in nearly all states.

What are the risk factors for Lyme disease?
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
What are the treatments for Lyme disease?
Are there screening tests for Lyme disease?
How can I reduce my risk of Lyme disease?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
Where can I get more information about Lyme disease?

References:

Lyme Disease Foundation website. Available at: http://www.lyme.org/ .

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ .

US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/ .



Last reviewed January 2007 by Jill D. Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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