Introduction To Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, with over 400,000 new cases each year. It is spread through a tick bite. When the body becomes infected with Borrelia burgdorferi–the spiral-shaped bacteria that causes Lyme disease–it mounts an initial immune response to fight a localized infection. Flu-like symptoms and a skin lesion may develop. If the infection goes untreated, or treatment is introduced too late, it can lead to immune dysfunction and organ system involvement.
Stages of Lyme Disease
Practitioners divide Lyme disease into three stages: early stage, disseminated stage, and late stage. Not every individual goes through all three stages, and symptoms can overlap. At our clinic, we respect each patient’s own unique experience. We are skilled at clinical evaluation, and never expect two people to exhibit the same disease progression.
Stage 1 Lyme Disease
Symptoms of acute Lyme disease infection typically appear between 3 – 30 days after the tick bite (CDC). The “classic” indicators of early Lyme disease are a skin lesion and flu-like symptoms. That being said, each individual case is different. Not all individuals develop a skin lesion or a bull’s-eye rash (also known as an Erythema migrans rash). Tick bites may introduce other microorganisms besides Lyme bacteria that cause a diverse array of rashes, which can complicate the diagnostic process. If a practitioner suspects acute Lyme disease, it is important to review a complete list of symptoms, analyze the person clinically, and perform proper testing.
Skin lesion or Bull’s-eye rash
Muscle and joint aches
Swollen lymph nodes
General “flu-like” feeling
Stage 2 Lyme Disease
If Lyme disease is not found and treated, the bacteria begin to spread throughout the body. This stage begins weeks to months after the initial tick bite. Second stage, early disseminated Lyme disease manifests in a variety of ways.
General “flu-like” feeling
Intermittent weakness and achiness of the muscles and joints
Numbness in arms and legs
Conjunctivitis (pink eye) or damage to deep tissue in eye
Expanding rash, or rash on other parts of the body
Short-term memory difficulties
Meningitis with severe headache and stiff neck
Feeling faint from an abnormally slow heart rate
Irregular heart palpitations
Unexplained difficulty tolerating exercise
Stage 3 Lyme Disease
Late Stage Lyme
This stage occurs months to years after the initial tick bite. When Lyme disease is not recognized, treatment is unsuccessful, or misdiagnosis occurs, the infection migrates throughout the body. Borrelia burgdorferi can infect any tissue, organ or system in the body. It does not discriminate. Therefore, it is common to see various sets of symptoms at this point, representing multi-system involvement. One patient may exhibit neurological, cognitive and cardiac issues simultaneously, for example.
Lyme disease has usually made a severe impact on a person’s health and quality of daily life when diagnosed at a late stage.
Disseminated Lyme Symptoms + the following
Persistent Lyme Disease
When Lyme disease symptoms are severe and difficult to resolve, the practitioner may need to consider chronic Lyme disease (CLD) or post-treatment Lyme disease (PTLD). Over one million people are estimated to be struggling with ongoing infection or multi-system immune dysfunction sparked by an initial Lyme infection. Some research even reports an estimate approaching two million individuals for the year 2020. Persistent, debilitating symptoms can severely compromise a person’s quality of life, leaving them vulnerable to an ongoing state of immune crisis, mental health struggles, financial woes, among other serious problems.
Vector-borne disease: The WHO defines vector-borne diseases as “human illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by vectors.” Vectors are organisms, like a tick or a mosquito, that spread pathogens from human to human, or from animal to human. Blood-sucking insects are the most common type of vector. In the context of Lyme disease, the tick is the vector, Borrelia burgdorferi is the pathogen, and Lyme disease is the vector-borne disease.
Zoonotic disease: A disease that spreads from animals to humans. In the case of Lyme disease, a tick feeds on the blood of an infected animal like a mouse. When it bites a human, the tick may pass on Borrelia burdorferi bacteria leading to zoonotic disease. The CDC estimates that “3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.”
Acute infection: The early stage of an infection characteristized by sudden onset and rapid progression.