Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease caused by the bacterium “Borrelia burgdorferi”. Borrelia live in the digestive tract of various tick species (among other things) and are transmitted to humans by a tick bite – often with additional co-infections.
Every bite of a tick infected with Borrelia does not necessarily lead to infection; moreover, every infection certainly doesn’t trigger an outbreak of the disease.
In acute Lyme disease, it is important to completely remove the tick (including the head). The tick can then be examined for Borrelia and co-infections. If an erythema migrans occurs, this is proof of an infection with Borrelia; however, additional co-infections may also be present. If symptoms such as fatigue, joint and muscle pain occur, Lyme disease should be considered as a diagnosis.
The ELISpot laboratory test detects Borrelia after two days, while the antibody detection reacts positively after three weeks at the earliest. If there is an infection, it is important to take antibiotics, such as Azithromycin or Doxycycline, for a period of four weeks.
Obligation to report
In Germany, there is an obligation for medical workers to report Lyme disease. However, this is not always carried out, so the number of new cases can only be estimated. Doctors assume that there are about 80,000 to 120,000 people in Germany that suffer from Lyme disease every year, and approximately 50,000 in Austria.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
The disease can affect different organs such as the skin, joints, heart, eyes or the nervous system. The incubation period of the individual stages varies from a few days to three weeks for acute Lyme disease and up to several weeks (or even months) for neurological manifestation of neuroborreliosis.
Borrelia arthritis (inflammation of the joints) can only occur months or years after a tick bite, leading the diagnosis to also be delayed.
Course of Lyme disease
Lyme disease is divided into three stages depending on its clinical appearance. However, this classification cannot be accurately applied to all patients, as atypical progressions occur very frequently.
Stage I – early localised stage:
Flu-like symptoms such as headache, mild fever, fatigue and muscle pain.
Stage II – early disseminated stage:
Redness in the form of several erythema migrans lesions, joint swelling and cardiac arrhythmia.
Stage III – Late stage
The chronic stage of Lyme disease occurs months or even years after the initial infection. A diversity of symptoms can be observed.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease
The doctor will make a clinical diagnosis to determine whether a patient has Lyme disease; in addition, some laboratory tests will also be carried out.
Treatment of Lyme disease?
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. Antibiotic therapy should be administered immediately if a clinical diagnosis of erythema migrans or Borrelia lymphocytoma has been made in order to prevent the disease spreading. Antibiotic treatment eliminates Borrelia from the organism.
The duration of the therapy depends on the stage of the disease. The dosage must be sufficiently high and long enough to kill all bacteria.