I've noticed that there is a wealth of misinformation about Lyme disease out there, so in celebration of Lyme Disease Awareness Month, I have compiled the following facts which I have taken great pains to make sure are accurate, up-to-date, and from reliable sources. But the long and short of it is, Lyme is EVERYWHERE, easy to get, and hard to get rid of. It can be mild or devastating or anything in between, depending on how early you catch it and how well you treat it.
The CDC estimate that 90% of people with Lyme disease are still undiagnosed, which means that probably someone who is reading this has Lyme disease and doesn't even know it. If you catch it early, meaning in the first couple days, a few weeks of antibiotics may be all you need to get rid of it. Otherwise, it can spread to every organ and affect every system in the body and become what is known as "chronic disseminated Lyme disease"-- much less fun to deal with.
Although ticks are most common late spring-early summer, they can survive over winter and live for years, so you can be at risk of getting Lyme & other tickborne diseases ANY time of the year.
Untreated Lyme disease can lead to meningitis, dementia, memory loss, nerve damage & paralysis, cardiomyopathy, cardiomegaly, enlarged spleen, cystitis, conjunctivitis, and depression (to name a few). These conditions can be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment.
Deer ticks aren't the only ticks you have to worry about-- lone star ticks, dog ticks, and other common tick species are excellent vectors for Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses. So if you find ANY kind of tick attached to you, be on the lookout for any weird symptoms and get to a doctor right away if they develop!
The CDC ranks the quality of life for Lyme patients as lower than that for recent heart attack survivors, and the most common cause of death among Lyme patients is suicide.
There are a lot of rumors flying around that a tick must be attached to you for some arbitrary length of time before you can get infected, but in reality, pathogen transmission can be instantaneous. Think about it: mosquitoes, fleas, etc. can infect you with all kinds of bacteria & viruses with a bite that only lasts a second-- why would ticks be any different?
Lyme is frequently misdiagnosed as MS, ALS, Chronic Fatigue, Autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and others. It is often referred to as “The Great Imitator”, as it can imitate virtually any symptom of any disease. However, unlike many of those other diseases it is treatable (with a lot of work & the right drugs).
Ever thought you might have Lyme disease, but got a negative test result? It could still be Lyme (the test is VERY unreliable)! A recent Johns Hopkins study determined that current testing procedures miss up to 75% of cases. And less than 50% of people ever get the classic "bull's eye" rash. You need a clinical diagnosis from an expert before you can rule out Lyme.
Ticks make excellent vectors because they live for a long time and feed on many hosts, so they accrue all kinds of bacteria, viruses, and protozoal agents over the years. If you get Lyme disease, chances are you'll get another tickborne illness at the same time. If you find a tick, don't just worry about Lyme-- worry about Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Q-fever, mycoplasma pneumoniae, Rickettsia typhi, and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (I have had all of the above!).
You don't necessarily have to be an "outdoorsy" person to get Lyme disease. I got it just by being in my backyard in the suburbs of DC when I was a baby. And if your pets aren't up to date on flea & tick preventative, they can bring ticks right into your home.
It's much better to overreact to a tick bite and take a few weeks of antibiotics, than to ignore it and wind up suffering unnecessarily (physically, mentally & financially) for decades afterwards.
It pays to be paranoid! Wear DEET bug spray, check for ticks constantly, and if you find any, watch out for ANY kind of symptom, and get to a doctor and DEMAND that you get on antibiotics right away! Believe me, it's worth it!