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What is Lyme Disease?
A potentially serious bacterial illness transmitted by tick bites. Lyme disease was first recognized in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut, when it was discovered that children who played in wooded or grassy areas were developing pediatric arthritis. In addition to humans who live in rural areas, ticks can infect horses, deer, raccoons, small predatory mammals (such as foxes) and rodents (WebMD, 2009).
Symptoms of Lyme disease include a red bump or bulls eye-shaped rash that appears at the site of the tick bite. Often, a person infected with Lyme disease will also feel like he or she has the flu. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause joint pain, arthritis, meningitis (swelling of the tissues surrounding the brain) and neurological problems (MayoClinic, 2008).
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Blood Tests for Lyme Disease
There are three main tests used to detect Lyme disease. The enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test checks for the presence of Lyme disease antibodies (chemcials the human body produces in response to the presence of specific pathogens). Because this test can produce false positives, if it reads positive, a western blot test (which works in a similar manner) is then performed in order to confirm the diagnosis (MayoClinic, 2008).
A third test, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, is used for patients experiencing chronic joint pain in order to determine if this is caused by Lyme disease. The PCR test is not used for accute Lyme disease (MayoClinic, 2008).
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Prevention and Treatment
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites. Ticks live in wooded or grassy, rural or natural areas. Ticks are black or dark brown, and usually cannot bite through clothing. Therefore, wearing light-colored clothing that covers skin can help prevent tick bites. Light-colored clothing allows ticks to be seen. Long clothes (such as jeans instead of shorts) keeps ticks away from skin (FamilyDoctor, 2010).
Another way to prevent Lyme disease is to remove any ticks that do bite as promptly as possible. Ticks can only transmit Lyme disease if they remain attached for longer than 48 hours (WebMD, 2009). To remove a tick, grasp its head gently with blunt tweezers, and pull straight out, making sure to remove all parts of the tick's mouth (FamilyDoctor, 2010). Contact your healthcare provider if you are unable to remove a tick.
Lyme disease is easily treated with inexpensive antibiotics. Prompt treatment can prevent serious complications. As always, it is important to take all the antibiotics prescribed, even if you feel better. This not only helps prevent the creation of an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria, it prevents you from getting sick again.
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Family Doctor Staff (2010). Lyme Disease. American Academy of Family Physicians. Retrieved 22 July, 2010 from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/infections/common/bacterial/257.html
MayoClinic Staff. (2008, 1 May). Lyme Disease. MayoClinic.com. Retrieved 22 July, 2010 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lyme-disease/DS00116/DSECTION=symptoms
WebMD Medical Reference. (2009). Arthritis and Lyme Disease. WebMD.com. Retrieved 22 July from http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/arthritis-lyme-disease