9 Myths about Lyme Disease
Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections are a major public health concern in the United States. Here are a few facts that help highlight the problem:
With an estimated 400,000 cases per year, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne infection in the United States.
Lyme disease, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever (TBRF), the potentially lethal Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and other tick-borne diseases are all recognised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States.
Tick hotspots have extended geographically as a result of climate change and land use practises, and prolonged tick seasons are increasing total rates of tick-borne diseases.
Given these trends, it's critical to understand how Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections spread, how to recognise symptoms, and how to protect yourself. There are a lot of myths regarding Lyme and other tick-borne infections, unfortunately. Knowing the difference between myth and fact can help you and your family stay safe from tick-borne diseases.
Because of the risk of chronic Lyme disease and co-infections, as well as the other realities of tick-borne diseases discussed in this article, it is critical that the general public understands how these diseases spread, how they are diagnosed, and how to recognise signs and symptoms so that you can get tested quickly and accurately.
Myths and Facts About Lyme Disease
Myth #1: If you don't have a rash, you don't have Lyme disease.
Lyme disease symptoms differ greatly from person to person.
When you check up typical Lyme disease symptoms, you'll notice that the erythema migrans rash, also known as the bull's eye rash, is one of the most noticeable. It's a circular rash that spreads in rings around the infection site (tick bite). Many people mistakenly believe that if they don't have the bull's-eye rash, they don't have Lyme disease.
In reality, with Lyme disease, it's quite usual to not have or notice a rash. Data vary, but studies reveal that anywhere from 20% to 70% of Lyme disease individuals never develop a rash.
Fever, tiredness, and muscle and joint aches are all frequent early-stage Lyme symptoms that differ from person to person. If you suspect you have Lyme disease, it's critical to get the most precise testing possible from a trustworthy lab to confirm your diagnosis.
Myth #2: You can't get Lyme disease if you haven't been bitten by a tick.
Many Lyme disease patients have no recollection of ever being bitten by a tick.
Lyme disease is spread by ticks in the nymphal stage, which are tiny – about the size of a poppy seed – and difficult to spot. Furthermore, once ticks have finished eating, they drop off, so you may not detect it. Finally, due to an analgesic included in the tick's saliva, tick bites are usually painless, making it unlikely that you will feel the bite.
If you detect a tick clinging to you, remove it as soon as possible and carefully.
Myth #3: You can't have Lyme disease if your Lyme disease test results are negative.
Fact: You can get a negative test result and still have Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections.
There are a variety of reasons why you could have a negative Lyme disease test but still be afflicted. For starters, the CDC's two-tier testing technique is fairly restrictive. The tests employed in this technique (usually an ELISA followed by a Western Blot if and only if the first test is positive) are only 70-75 percent accurate and aren't designed to detect all forms of Borrelia that might cause Lyme disease.
It's also crucial to note that typical Lyme disease tests look for antibodies produced by the immune system in reaction to the sickness rather than the presence of bacteria. The body's ability to create enough antibodies to show up on a test can take days to weeks. You could test negative yet still be sick if you test too soon after the tick bite or use a test that isn't sensitive enough. Additionally, certain immunocompromised patients may not produce detectable antibodies, necessitating testing using a different approach, such as PCR.
Finally, it's very uncommon to test negative for Lyme disease but be infected with a tick-borne disease with identical symptoms, such as Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever. This can result in a misdiagnosis, which can be both physically and financially crippling.
Myth #4: Lyme disease can only be contracted during the summer.
Lyme disease can strike at any time of year.
While ticks that transmit Lyme disease, such as Eastern or Western blacklegged ticks, often known as deer ticks, are most active in the summer, some are active year-round and can bite at any time. This is especially true as a result of climate change, which has resulted in higher average temperatures and "longer" summers, allowing ticks to remain active for extended periods of time.
Myth #5: Lyme disease is only seen on the East Coast.
Lyme disease can be contracted anywhere in the United States.
Lyme disease can strike at any time of year, and it can strike anywhere in the United States. While infections are more common in woodland areas with large mammals such as deer, such as the Northeastern United States and the Pacific Northwest, cases have been reported in all 50 states. Tick ranges are also spreading geographically, owing to climate change allowing ticks to survive in new environments.
It's also worth noting that Lyme disease is just one of numerous tick-borne infections that can be found in the United States. Tick-borne diseases are a hazard in all 50 states, as seen on the map below.
Lyme disease isn't the only tick-borne illness with an ambiguous name. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, one of the most prevalent and serious tick-borne diseases in North America, is not limited to the western United States, as its name suggests. The CDC admits that it's far more common than previously assumed, with instances reported across the eastern United States.
Myth #6: The Eastern blacklegged tick is the only tick to be concerned about if you have Lyme disease.
Fact: Many more tick species in the United States can transmit diseases, including the Lyme disease-causing Borrelia burgdorferi.
If you're familiar with Lyme disease, you're probably aware of the Eastern blacklegged tick, sometimes known as the "deer tick," which is known to spread the disease. In the United States, however, several distinct species of ticks transmit diseases to humans, with even more ticks transmitting diseases to animals. The Lone Star tick, for example, is known to carry bacteria that cause a variety of ailments, including Lyme disease.
Myth #7: Chronic Lyme illness isn't real.
Lyme disease, if left untreated or undertreated, can become a devastating chronic illness.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of misconception regarding the genuine dangers of persistent Lyme disease. Instead, organisations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) focus on disorders like Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), in which a patient who has been diagnosed with and treated for Lyme disease develops persistent symptoms. Chronic Lyme disease, on the other hand, is not only real, but also affects far too many people, because to the CDC-recommended tests' sensitivity and accuracy limits.
It's crucial to remember that untreated Lyme illness can progress to chronic Lyme disease, which has a far wider range of symptoms, is more severe, and, most critically, is more difficult to cure. PTLDS does not fully depict the situation since it ignores the many people who never receive an accurate diagnosis and develop chronic Lyme disease as a result.
Myth #8: If you don't have Lyme disease, you can't have a co-infection.
Fact: To have a common Lyme co-infection, you don't have to be infected with Lyme disease.
The phrase "co-infection" refers to numerous illnesses being infected at the same time. The most prevalent scenario in the setting of Lyme disease is being infected with both Lyme disease and another tick-borne disease, such as Babesiosis, at the same time. As a result, many patients believe that if you don't have Lyme, you can't have one of these co-infections.
Many ticks that aren't known to carry Lyme disease do, however, spread other tick-borne infections. Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, and/or Anaplasmosis can all be caused by a bite from the Brown Dog Tick, Rhicephalus Sanguineus.
Myth #9: You can develop Lyme disease or TBRF Borrelia infection, but not both.
It is possible to have Lyme disease, TBRF disease, or both at the same time.
Lyme disease is caused by one of the two types of Borrelia bacterium, while Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever is caused by the other (TBRF). Many people are unaware that they might have both Lyme and TBRF infections at the same time. Though most instances of TBRF in the United States are caused by a different type of tick than those that cause Lyme disease, some ticks that carry Lyme bacteria, such as Eastern and Western blacklegged ticks, can also carry the TBRF-causing bacteria B. miyamotoi.
It's worth noting that the symptoms of Lyme and TBRF are so similar that it's difficult to tell the difference without accurate testing.