by Dennis Dalman – firstname.lastname@example.org
The cause of Lyme disease was not identified until 1981 when a man named Willy Burgdorfer succeeded in identifying the bacteria that causes it – a bacteria spread by certain types of ticks, most commonly in the United States by deer ticks. (see related story)
Burgdorfer was a researcher at the Rocky Mountain Biological State Health Department. The spiral-shaped, devious bacteria he discovered is known as “Borrelia burgdorfen sensu stricto,” with the bug getting the “burgdorfen” part of its name from Burgdorfer himself.
Lyme disease is named after the city of Lyme, Conn., where many cases of a mysterious illness occurred in 1975.
The disease is the most common form of tick-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere. It affects an estimated 32 people per 100,000 in the states where it is most common. And, in fact, 96 to 99 percent of Lyme disease cases occur in just 13 states, mainly in the New England area and parts of the Upper Midwest, places where white-tailed deer (the tick’s main hosts) are common. Those states are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia.
From 2002-11, cases in the United States have ranged from a low of 19,800 in 2004 to a high of 29,970 in 2009. There were about 24,000 cases in 2011.
The vicious little bacteria that causes Lyme disease is apparently as old as civilization. The “Otzi the Ice Man,” who was found well preserved in an Austrian Alps glacier about 20 years ago, is estimated to have died suddenly and violently 5,300 years ago. Scientists found a DNA sequence in Otzi that matched up with the Borrelia bacteria.
How it happens
Deer ticks like to feed on mice and other rodents when they are in the nymph stages. Later, they tend to feed on white-tailed deer.
The ticks are most common in grassy or weedy areas.
When they manage to get onto a human host, they will release a numbing agent onto the skin before they bite and begin to ingest the host’s blood. Because of the numbing agent, many victims do not know they have been bitten.
Most Lyme disease is caused when the very tiny nymphs bite humans. That is because the ticks are so tiny at that stage they are very hard to detect for early removal from the skin’s surface.
The good news is only about 1 percent of tick bites result in Lyme infection. Another bit of good news is if the tick is removed within 24 hours of biting a host, chances of being infected are rare. Still more good news is if the victim is treated with antibiotics for a period of two to four weeks, chances of a complete recovery are excellent.
In some cases, however, the disease can return after the initial treatment, causing various symptoms that range from fatigue to joint pains, from muscle aches to tingling in the hands.
It’s waiting until later that causes problems, partly because the bacteria seems to go dormant or unnoticed in the body (it can mimic and change), then bursts forth with a vengeance.
The bad news is deer-tick bites can cause co-infections, making an accurate diagnosis of Lyme disease very difficult. Often victims are misdiagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, Crohn’s disease, HIV and other auto-immune or degenerative diseases.
Lyme disease symptoms can include headaches, aching muscles, fatigue and unexplainable depression. At its worst, it can also cause memory loss, facial palsy, cognitive impairment, panic attacks, anxiety disorder and even delusional behavior. However, people suffering one or more of such symptoms should not assume automatically they have Lyme disease.
Usually Lyme symptoms appear in about two weeks after exposure, but in some instances, the symptoms don’t appear until long after the tick infection, in some cases months or even years.
An almost certain symptom of the start of a Lyme disease infection is a red-rash “bulls-eye” ring around the spot where the tick fed on the skin. But such a rash is not always present in a Lyme infection so it’s important for people to take precautions and search for the tiny ticks on the entire body.
Dogs should also be examined carefully as soon as they enter the house after playing in a wooded, weedy or grassy area. Special attention should be paid to the dog’s face, nose, neck and ears.
In rare cases, Lyme disease has been known to kill dogs and people, but such cases are exceedingly rare.
Most doctors and researchers tend to dismiss the idea of “long-term chronic Lyme disease,” and most won’t treat it with ongoing regimens of antibiotics as such treatments can prove toxic.
The Lyme disease controversy rages on in medical literature, causing disagreements among doctors, researchers, patients and insurance companies.
For a number of reasons, including the devious, ever-changing bacteria, making a 100-percent certain Lyme disease diagnosis can be very difficult, if not impossible.
According to the National Center for Disease Control, anywhere from 10-20 percent of people with Lyme disease will develop later symptoms after their initial antibiotic treatments.
Guard against it
The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to be very aware of the ticks that cause it and their environment. Always wear, if possible, light-colored clothing when in a woody, grassy or weedy area. That includes long pants tucked into boots, preferably, long-sleeved shirts and a hat. The light-colored clothing makes the tiny brownish ticks easier to spot.
Use a good tick spray or lotion that contains an ingredient named DEET.
Always be sure to check pets (especially dogs) when they come into the home after being outside.
Also make sure to check for ticks on children’s bodies, preferably when bathing them right after coming into the home from playing outside.
If a tick is found, place it in a plastic bag, then seal it. If a person shows any symptoms, meet with a doctor immediately and bring the bagged tick along.
Note: Information for the story above came from a variety of news sources, including the Mayo Clinic website, the Center for Disease Control and other medical-information sites.