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Lyme Disease

What Is Lyme Disease?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 13:31

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that can cause symptoms throughout the body. "Tick-borne" means an illness that is transmitted from the bite of a tick.

Lyme disease was officially identified in 1975. Today it is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. It has been reported in every U.S. state except Montana and is especially prevalent in:

  • Southern New England
  • New York
  • The Mid-Atlantic States
  • Wisconsin
  • The coastal and wooded areas of California and Oregon

Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms, including fever, muscle pain, arthritis-like joint pain, fatigue, and a skin rash. In rare cases, it can lead to temporary paralysis of the muscles in the face, or serious heart or nervous system problems.

Early treatment with antibiotics is important to avoid long-term problems. Although symptoms sometimes last for months, early treatment increases the likelihood that they will clear up completely.

Need To Know:

People treated in the early stages usually recover quickly and completely. A recent study has shown that the general health of people who have had Lyme disease between 1 and 11 years before is similar to that of the general population.

Nice To Know:

In Europe, medical literature from the early 1900s describes a skin rash similar to Lyme disease. Some experts believe Lyme disease may have spread from Europe to the U.S. at that time, but it was recognized only recently as a distinct illness.

Facts About Lyme Disease

  • Lyme disease was first identified in 1975, when a number of cases occurred in Lyme, Connecticut.
  • Lyme disease is more commonly reported in the United States  than any other vectorborne illness. In 2009, it was the fifth most common nationally notifiable disease.
  • In 2010, about 30,000 confirmed and probably cases of Lyme disease were reported to public health officials in the United States.
  • About 75% of the people who contract Lyme disease don't remember being bitten by a tick.
  • It usually takes at least 36 to 48 hours following a tick bite for the Lyme-causing bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) to be transmitted.
  • About 85% of people with Lyme disease get a characteristic rash.
  • Lyme disease has been reported in all U.S. states except Montana. It also is found in Europe, the former Soviet Union, China, Japan, and Australia.
  • The vast majority (94%) of all cases of Lyme disease were reported from 12 states in 2010: Connecticut, Maine, Delaware, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virgina, Maryland, and Wisconsin.
  • In the northeastern and north-central U.S., most cases of Lyme disease are reported from May through August, with the peak in July. In the non-coastal western U.S., the disease most often occurs between January and May. On the West Cost, it most often occurs between November and April.
  • Health officials believe that Lyme disease is under-diagnosed and that as many as 90 percent of cases may go unreported.
  • The highest reported rates of Lyme disease are in children ages 2 to 15 and adults ages 30 to 55.


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