Lyme can be hard to diagnose. Unfortunately,
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Lyme disease is transmitted by tiny ticks of the Ixodidae family and afflicts about 10,000
people yearly. Initially identified in a group of children in Lyme, Conn.,
the disease has now been found in nearly all states and 18 other countries. About 90 percent
of cases are reported in three areas: the northeast and mid-Atlantic states (Massachusetts to
the upper Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin), and the Far West (California and Oregon).
The first sign is usually a bull’s-eye rash that expands to several inches in diameter
before disappearing after a few weeks. In some cases, the rash may take a different form or
may be absent altogether. Other early symptoms with or without the rash
are flu-like feelings of fatigue, headache, fever, sore throat, chills or body aches.
You may also have vague pains in the joints, without swelling. In about half the patients who are not treated, this joint
pain returns in about six months as painful arthritis with swelling, usually in one knee. In about 10 percent of these cases,
Lyme arthritis becomes chronic. Some patients also experience a complex range of other symptoms, including stiff neck, headaches,
sensitivity to light, memory loss, mood changes, chronic fatigue, recurring rashes, paralysis of one or both sides of the face,
disruption of heart rhythm, and areas of tingling or numbness.
Because the symptoms are random and vague (aside from the bull’s-eye rash), Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose.
Unfortunately, unless Lyme disease is treated promptly, it can also be difficult to cure. This is one reason the
disease has inspired considerable anxiety among residents in areas where it is common, and may be a reason it is
The good news is a vaccine that appears to prevent Lyme disease has been under
testing and appears to meet approval for human use. No vaccine is foolproof so even
when a vaccine is approved, the best protection is vigilance. Because infection does not
occur until a tick has been attached for 36 to 48 hours, a thorough daily tick check can be an effective first-line defense.
Be aware, however, that the ticks are very small; they are often the size of poppy seeds, although they are larger when engorged with blood.
A circular, bull’s-eye rash, often with a clear center, expanding to eight inches or more
and lasting two to four weeks.
May be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as headache, fatigue, fever, chills,
sore throat, and aching muscles and joints.
If not treated, weeks later the development of a generalized and painful kind
of arthritis, with swelling in one or sometimes both knees.
Paralysis (most often of the face), memory impairment, random areas of tingling or numbness.
Sensitivity to light.
Irregular heartbeat (see Heart Arrhythmia), chest pain, dizziness.
Psychological changes, including depression.