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How to check for Lyme disease

14 January 2020 in Health

Canadian singer Justin Bieber recently revealed that he has Lyme disease - a tick-borne infection that can take months or years to resolve, even after treatment.

Bieber is the latest celebrity to raise awareness of the infection, which affects thousands of people in the US every year (Lyme disease is more common in the US than in the UK).

It's not always easy to tell if you have Lyme disease because the symptoms resemble those of many other conditions. However, this article should help you better understand the condition and how to reduce your risk of developing it.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a bite from an infected tick.

Ticks are tiny creatures found in woodland areas. They feed on the blood of mammals, including humans. As they’re so small they often go unnoticed and may stay attached to your skin, feeding, for several days.

The longer the tick feeds on your blood the higher your chance of getting the infection.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

The first symptom is usually a red skin rash around the site of the original tick bite. It often appears as a circular pattern that looks a bit like a ‘bull’s eye’ on a dartboard. If the tick bite goes unnoticed and no treatment is given, it can take weeks or even months for the Lyme disease rash to appear.

Other early symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • a headache
  • a high temperature or feeling feverish
  • muscle or joint pain
  • general tiredness and loss of energy

If Lyme disease isn’t treated you may develop more severe symptoms months or years later. Long-term symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • swelling in your joints
  • pain or numbness in different parts of your body caused by problems in the nervous system
  • heart problems, such as chest pain or an irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • memory loss and an inability to focus

How do you get Lyme disease in humans?

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease lives in certain animals like mice and birds, and is usually harmless to them. This bacterium can be transferred to humans when a tick sucks the blood of an infected animal and then sucks the blood of a human being.

The only way to get Lyme disease is from an infected tick - it can’t be transferred from person to person.

Only a small number of ticks are infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

How to prevent Lyme disease in humans

There are things you can do to reduce your chance of getting the disease, including:

  • avoiding areas where infected ticks live, such as long grass and woodland
  • regularly checking your skin and your children’s skin for ticks after being outdoors
  • wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers tucked into your socks to prevent ticks from touching your skin
  • taking a shower or bath after being outdoors in an area prone to ticks
  • using insect repellent - look for products containing DEET, as these are the most effective

Find out more about treatment for Lyme disease.

References:

Lyme disease: summary of NICE guidance [Internet]. The BMJ. 2020 [cited 14 January 2020]. Available here.

Tidy D. Lyme Disease | Causes and Treatment [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 14 January 2020]. Available here.

Lyme disease - Your.MD [Internet]. Your.MD. 2020 [cited 14 January 2020]. Available here.

Lyme disease [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 14 January 2020]. Available here.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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