Most people have heard of Lyme disease but the majority would be hard pressed to describe the mechanics of it, or the exact effects it has on a patient’s body. That’s not entirely their fault; Lyme is a particularly tricky disease to come to terms with and understand. Many doctors still don’t fully grasp the long-term effects, which transform dramatically over time and provide Lyme with its nom de guerre ‘The Great Imitator’, describing the disease’s frustrating ability to mimic other disorders.
Cutting through the white noise and getting to the heart of Lyme can be a tall order. There’s lot we don’t understand about the disease, but there’s also a lot we do; clearing up some widespread myths is a good start in laying a foundation of knowledge about the debilitating disorder, providing patients and family members with accurate, incisive information on which to act.
1 – Lyme Disease always causes a bullseye rash
Most people associate Lyme with a distinctive rash, which forms in the shape of a bullseye; a red patch in the centre, surrounded by another red ring. Lyme is spread through tick bites, with the rash forming at the site of the bite. While this distinctive rash is an excellent tell-tale symptom of Lyme, it’s not the one-size-fits-all indicator that most people think it is. In fact, only around 50% of patients infected with Lyme present with a rash, and of them, only half again have the bullseye pattern. Any sort of rash which occurs concurrently with flu-like symptoms (another early Lyme indicator) should be checked out, and Lyme disease should be kept in mind.
2 – Lyme can be accurately diagnosed by a blood test
Lyme is not just difficult to detect through symptoms; it’s also tough to pin down through tests. If you or your doctor is concerned about the presence of Lyme, he or she will most likely order a two-tiered blood test, which consists of an ELISA test (which measures the amount of antibodies produced by the body to combat the Lyme bacterium in the system) followed by a Western blot, which screens for specific protein patterns characteristic of Lyme. Unfortunately, while they may sound comprehensive, these forms of blood test can often miss the mark, as in the early Lyme stages, not enough antibodies are present to return correct readings. If standard blood testing comes back negative but you still strongly suspect Lyme, consult with your doctor about more rigorous further tests.
3 – Lyme is an American disease
In Europe, Lyme has a reputation for being a solely American disease. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where this reputation comes from, but it seems that it has something to do with the conflating of two different stages of Lyme, the acute and chronic. Chronic Lyme disease is still regarded as a fabrication in some medical circles; the investigation into the long-term effects of Lyme started in America, and so chronic Lyme has come to be seen as somewhat of an American invention in Europe. Unfortunately, this is extremely dangerous thinking; Lyme is just as prevalent in Europe as the U.S., and the debilitating effects of chronic Lyme should not be taken lightly, or written off as the delusions of hypochondriac Americans.
4 – Antibiotics are the only way to treat Lyme
Antibiotics are a very effective way to treat Lyme, but only if it is caught in the early stages. Unfortunately, only a minority of patients manage to recognise the early symptoms, meaning that most cases lose the window of opportunity during which antibiotics can be most effective. Because the early symptoms mimic a cold or flu, many patients are inclined to let the symptoms linger, convinced they’ll go away by themselves; by doing so, they miss the period when antibiotics can be most effective (two to four weeks after infection). Even after antibiotic treatment, studies show that around 20% percent of people still exhibit symptoms. Generally speaking, the longer Lyme has been in the system, the harder it is to combat; ideally, a multi-pronged approach is required.
5 – You can only catch Lyme in the summer
While it’s undeniably true that cases of Lyme go up in the summer months, you shouldn’t let your guard down in the wintertime. Ticks do not technically just die off all of a sudden when summer ends; temperatures have to fall below 12 ℃ for ticks to start expiring, meaning there is a viable Lyme threat in autumn and spring in most areas, stretching to all year round in some countries or U.S. states. Due to the numbing agent that ticks possess in their saliva, you won’t know anything about it when you’ve been bitten; the best form of prevention is always a thorough body check whenever you’ve been out and about in woody or grassy areas, whatever the season.