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On the Lookout: Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by the spirochete-shaped bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii which is transmitted by the bite of a deer tick. Lyme disease is frequently misdiagnosed or missed entirely. The ELISA test that is commonly used for screening is only 65% sensitive, thus missing 35% of cases. An additional 20-30% of culture-positive proven Lyme patients show negative results on the Western Blot test, in part due to oddities in the criteria mandated by the CDC in reporting the results. According to the CDC “early recognition and treatment of the infection reduces the risk of serious complications.”

The signs and symptoms of many tick-borne diseases are similar. Because the symptoms of Lyme disease are wide-ranging, it is known as the ‘great imitator,’ and can be mistaken for many other illnesses. About 50-75% of patients recall having had the characteristic bull’s eye rash. 50% of patients don’t even recall having had a tick bite.

Lyme Disease Develops in 3 Stages of Increasingly Serious Symptoms:

Stage 1: The early localized stage may present with the characteristic bull’s eye rash.

Stage 2: The second or early disseminated stage occurs weeks to months after the first stage. At this point, the infection has spread to other parts of the body.

Stage 3: The late stage begins months to years after the first stage in untreated patients.

The presentation of the early disseminated (second) stage is similar to that of the flu, with fever, muscle aches, joint pain, fatigue, and in some cases a recurrence of the characteristic rash in new locations. About 15% of patients experience nervous system involvement, such as Bell’s palsy, and 8% have myocardial abnormalities.

The late disseminated stage is characterized by arthritis in about 60% of patients, as well as CNS abnormalities, such as polyneuropathy or encephalopathy.


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