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What Causes Lyme Disease?

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  • Lyme disease can be caused by four species of bacteria: Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia mayonii, Borrelia garinii and Borrelia afzelii
  • Many experts attribute Lyme disease transmission exclusively to ticks, but others suggest that it can also be spread by other blood-sucking or biting insects

There are four species of bacteria that can cause Lyme disease: Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia mayonii, Borrelia garinii and Borrelia afzelii. In the U.S., B. burgdorferi and B. mayonii are the primary causes of Lyme disease, whereas in Asia and Europe, B. garinii and B. afzelii account for most cases of this condition.1 Many experts attribute Lyme disease transmission exclusively to ticks, but others suggest that it can also be spread by other blood-sucking or biting pests and insects.2,3

How Lyme Disease Is Transmitted

Lyme disease-causing bacteria usually enter humans through the bite of an infected black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) or sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus). The black-legged tick (also called the deer tick) is found in the north-central, northeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S., while the western black-legged tick is found in the Pacific Coast regions of the U.S.4 The sheep tick is generally found in Europe and neighboring countries.5

Ticks can attach to any part of the body, but they are usually found in hard-to-see areas like the scalp, groin and armpits.6 The ticks that carry Lyme disease must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted. In most cases, immature ticks, which are called nymphs, transmit the disease to humans.7

Nymphs typically feed during spring and summer, and are very small (less than 2 millimeters) and difficult to see. However, adult ticks can also transmit the disease, but because they are much bigger, they are more likely to be discovered and removed before the infection is transmitted.8

How Do You Know if You Have Lyme Disease?

If you are infected, you will develop a Lyme disease rash, which may be accompanied by recurring fever, unrelenting fatigue, headaches and achy muscles and joints. The rash gradually spreads over several days, and may ultimately reach 12 inches across its biggest diameter.9,10 Your physician can confirm your diagnosis using laboratory tests that identify antibodies to Lyme disease-causing bacteria.11

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the two-step testing system for diagnosing Lyme disease.12 The first test looks for antibodies that form when your body tries to fight off the disease. However, laboratory tests are unreliable for diagnosing Lyme disease because the bacteria can infect white blood cells as well.13

Such tests rely on the normal function of these cells in producing the antibodies that they measure. Hence, if your white blood cells are infected, they are unable to respond to an infection appropriately. Since this test can sometimes result in false-positives, it’s not used as the sole basis for diagnosing Lyme disease.14

Lyme tests are generally more useful when you get treated first, because the immune system needs to begin responding normally before antibodies will show up on a blood test. This is often referred to as the “Lyme Paradox” — a proper diagnosis can be made only after the patient is treated. You may utilize the specialized laboratory called IGeneX, which offers a more comprehensive and targeted testing for Lyme disease.

MORE ABOUT LYME DISEASE

Lyme Disease: Introduction

What Is Lyme Disease?

Is Lyme Disease Contagious?

Lyme Disease Causes

Lyme Disease Stages

Lyme Disease Symptoms

Lyme Disease Treatment

Lyme Disease Prevention

Lyme Disease Test

Lyme Disease Diet

Lyme Disease FAQ

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