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Lyme Disease

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease (LD) is a multi-stage, multi-system bacterial infection caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, a spiral shaped bacterium that is most commonly transmitted by a tick bite. The disease takes its name from Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in the United States in 1975.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lyme disease continues to be a rapidly emerging infectious disease, and is the leading cause of all insect-borne illness in the US. The number of annually reported cases has increased 25-fold since national surveillance began in 1982.  About 20,000 people are infected each year in the US. The majority (95 percent) of cases are reported in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

Depending on the location, anywhere from less than 1 percent to more than 50 percent of the ticks are infected with spirochetes (bacteria that are usually carried by the tick).

Lyme disease is a year-round problem, although April through October is considered tick season. Cases of LD have been reported in 49 states in this country, with most cases occurring in:

Many cases have also been identified in large areas of Asia and Europe.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

The list of possible symptoms for Lyme disease is non-specific, and symptoms can affect every part of the body. Symptoms usually appear within three to 30 days. The following are the most common symptoms of LD. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

One of the primary symptoms is often a rash that can be pink in the center and a deeper red on the surrounding skin, but can vary in appearance. The rash:

Several days or weeks after a bite from an infected tick, flu-like symptoms can appear, including the following:

After several months, painful and swollen joints may occur.

Other possible symptoms may include the following:

Symptoms of LD may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

LD may be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms may resemble other conditions. The primary symptom is a rash, but it may not be present in up to 20 percent of cases. Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms and a history of a tick bite.

Diagnosis of Lyme disease must be made by an experienced physician. Blood and laboratory tests may be performed to rule out other conditions.

Research is underway to develop and improve methods for diagnosing LD.

Treatment for Lyme disease:

Your child's physician will determine the best treatment plan based on your child's individual situation. Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics.

Treatment will be considered based on these and other factors:

How can Lyme disease be prevented?

Humans do not develop immunity to LD and reinfection is possible. In 1998, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved a new vaccine against Lyme disease called LYMErix. The vaccine was not 100 percent effective, however, and the FDA still recommended using other preventive measures. In 2002, the manufacturer of LYMErix announced that the vaccine would no longer be available commercially.

Some general guidelines for preventing LD include the following:

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