Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdoferi, which is carried in the gut of certain ticks that feed off mice or deer. When the tick carrying Lyme disease attaches to a human and feeds, its stomach contents go into the person's bloodstream and cause a skin rash starting at the point where the tick attaches itself. This rash, called erythema migrans, is typical. Several weeks later, flu-like symptoms develop, sometimes with severe inflammation of the brain and nervous tissue and occasionally of the heart.

The long-term consequences of Lyme disease can be serious and debilitating and cause chronic fatigue, arthritis, and damage to the peripheral nerves and brain. In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated with 2 to 4 weeks (occasionally longer) of antibiotics, depending on the symptoms and severity. Even though Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, however, many people have persistent symptoms, and others who have been treated late or remain undiagnosed may have long-term symptoms.

The best treatment is to avoid the disease in the first place. It helps to wear long pants tucked inside boots or shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and a hat, but that may not be practical when it's hot.

The best practice is to avoid places with ticks that carry Lyme disease, but if that is not possible, the most important thing is to check yourself for the ticks. It is probably the easiest and safest way to prevent the disease. In most cases, a tick carrying Lyme disease must feed for 36 to 48 hours before it can actually transmit the disease. Develop a checking routine – for example, checking yourself in the shower for ticks and removing them. Checking for ticks is extremely important because ticks that carry Lyme disease also carry other infections, some of which may be even more serious than Lyme disease, such as Babesia and Ehrlichia.

Ticks that carry these diseases like moist, warm areas of the human body, such as the belt line, sock line, and armpits. The tick that carries Lyme disease is the size of a sesame seed. When fed, it can bloat to 10 times the size. People who live in Lyme disease areas find it convenient to rub their hands over their body during a shower. The tick feels like a little scab that doesn't come off. It should be removed without irritating it. Don't cover it with Vaseline or kerosene, or touch a match to it, because it could cause the tick to regurgitate its stomach contents. Ticks should be pulled on slowly and firmly with tweezers or, if you don't have tweezers, with your fingernails. It's not that difficult and it will save you a lot of grief.

Matthew H. Liang, MD
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team