What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease was first identified in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. The disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted by the bite of infected ticks. Cases of Lyme disease have been reported throughout the continental United States, but infectious ticks seem to be most active in the Northeast, the upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. In the Northeast and Midwest, the tick is carried by deer. In the West, the tick is carried by a mouse. The tiny tick’s life cycle makes them most active— likeliest to bite—in the spring and summer.
Lyme disease is progressive. If antibiotic therapy is given in the early stages, most people respond very well. Unfortunately, Lyme disease is often missed for weeks or months because it is not recognized.
Response to treatment begun late may be minimal. Joint manifestations begin one week to two years after the initial illness, lasting for weeks to months and usually recurring for several years. Heart inflammation, meningitis and facial palsy can also develop. Lethargy and fatigue may be constant and incapacitating. These late-stage complications are almost completely avoidable with early treatment.
When to Suspect Lyme Disease
Because deer ticks are so tiny, most people never notice being bitten. If you live in an area where infected ticks are active, be suspicious of any flulike illness that your child develops during the spring, summer or early fall.
The first sign of Lyme disease is often a distinctive, circular rash appearing from several days to two weeks after the tick bit. Beginning like a tiny red pimple, the rash expands to a red circle that may be clear in the center, resembling a bull’s eye. Even without treatment, the rash will usually disappear within a few weeks. However, nearly half of all people with Lyme disease never develop the classic rash. Among those who do develop a rash, 50 percent go on to have small red blotches and circles in the thigh or groin within several days. Conjunctivitis may also appear.
The next early sign to watch for is a flulike illness, characterized by a headache, aching muscles, fever, chills, painful joints, a stiff neck or a sore throat. Even without treatment, this illness will usually disappear within a week to ten days, although the accompanying fatigue may persist for weeks or months.
If the disease escapes detection in these early stages, many children go on to develop arthritis, abnormal heart rhythms and nervous system problems.