Taken from Lymedisease.org
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a spirochete (say “SPY-ROH-KEET”) that humans can get from the bite of an infected deer tick. The spirochete’s scientific name is Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is called “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.
How do people get Lyme disease?
People usually get Lyme disease from ticks infected with Lyme spirochetes. Most human cases are caused by the nymphal, or immature, form of the tick. Nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed. Because their bite is painless, many people do not realize they have been bitten.
Ticks may remain attached for several days while they feed. The longer they remain attached, the greater the risk that they will pass the Lyme bacteria into your bloodstream, where they will start spreading throughout your body.
If pregnant women are infected, they sometimes pass Lyme disease to their unborn children. Some doctors believe other types of human-to-human transmission are possible but little is known for certain.
Where is Lyme disease found?
Lyme disease has been found on every continent except Antarctica. It is found all across the United States, with a particularly high incidence in the east, midwest, and west coast. It seems to be spreading.
Not all ticks are infected. Within endemic areas, there is considerable variation locally, depending on type of habitat, presence of wildlife, and other factors. In the south, a Lyme-like disease is called STARI (Southern Rash-Associated Tick Illness).
In addition to the variation that occurs in nature, there is also variation in how aggressively the states have tested ticks for infection. Thus, many times the reported incidence of infected ticks reflects the fact that the state has done little or no testing of ticks in the area. Some of this increase may be because of disease spread, but it is also likely that it reflects growing public awareness of the disease.
Early in the infection, many people experience a flu-like illness that may clear up without treatment. Some people get a rash around the site of the tick bite. Most of the time the rash is an ordinary red area, however if it is a bull’s-eye shape with a darker edge, it is a definite sign of Lyme disease and needs immediate treatment. Unfortunately this distinctive rash is uncommon.
The Lyme rash starts a few days or even several weeks after the bite and then expands over a period of days to several inches across, perhaps with a central clearing. Untreated, it can last for weeks before fading, or it may fade and recur. The rash may have an irregular shape, blisters or a scabby appearance. Some rashes have a bruise-like appearance. Lyme rashes can mimic spider bite, ringworm, or cellulitis. Multiple, so-called “satellite” rashes may appear on different parts of the body. If you develop a rash, take a photo of it and see a doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor may want you to have a blood test to confirm that the rash is actually a Lyme rash. People with early Lyme disease do not develop the antibodies necessary for the diagnostic tests for several weeks, and, early testing can give false negative results because of this. Although all medical treatment has some risk, treatment with antibiotics is relatively safe. Waiting for test results gives the spirochetes additional time to invade your body. Your doctor should explain the risks so you can make an informed choice.
If Lyme disease is not diagnosed and treated early, the Lyme spirochetes can spread and may go into hiding in your body. Weeks, months or even years later you may have problems with your brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, heart and circulation, digestion, reproductive system, and skin. Symptoms may disappear even without treatment and different symptoms may appear at different times.