Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that is spread through an infected tick’s bite. Of the four types of tick species in Oregon that bite humans, the western back-legged tick is the only known species to transmit Lyme in the state. While the southwestern part of Oregon typically sees the most Lyme disease infections, cases have been seen in other areas of the state as well.
Nymphs — young ticks — most commonly transmit Lyme, and are most active during the spring and summer. Common bite locations that are often missed are the armpit, groin, or scalp. In order for a tick to transmit the infection, it must be attached to its host for between 24-48 hours.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can involve the musculoskeletal, nervous, and cardiovascular systems and can vary depending on the stage of the disease. Symptoms can include but are not limited to:
Joint pain and/or swelling
Stiff neck, headache or fever due to lymphocytic meningitis
Chest pain, shortness of breath, or abnormal heart rate
“bull’s eye” rash
Bone and muscle pain
Lyme disease is ultimately diagnosed with blood tests, but doctors are also encouraged to consider the patient’s symptoms, location, and medical history when diagnosing. Since symptoms can often mirror other illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and arthritis, it is important that these conditions be ruled out.
Complications from Lyme come primarily when the peripheral or central nervous systems become infected. They can include Lyme meningitis— a recurrent form of aseptic meningitis, Lyme arthritis, and Lyme carditis — which can be fatal.
Treatment, Prognosis, Prevention
Antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cefuroxime are the most common treatments for Lyme disease, which work well for most. However, even with treatment, some patients continue to have symptoms. Approximately 10 – 20% of patients continue on to suffer from post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome with similar symptoms such as fatigue and joint pain, requiring ongoing treatment.
For those who spend time in wooded or vegetated areas during the spring and summer months, wear appropriate clothing to cover vulnerable skin areas (i.e. long sleeves, pants, close-toed shoes, and hats). Additionally, utilize insect repellent and check skin for ticks thoroughly when returning from outdoors.