In the last two years treating patient with infertility, menopausal issues, as well as other general health problems has brought to the forefront of our practice a disease called Lyme disease.

Everyone needs to beware of this disease, as it presents in various forms of illness. Lyme disease was the most commonly reported vector-borne disease of 2013 in the United States, according to the Centre for Disease Control.

In Africa, we have all heard about mosquitoes biting us and giving us malaria. But what if we tell you that there are other insects out there biting us and giving us even more deadly diseases than malaria? There are apparently many different insects biting us and giving us diseases which have been classified as Lyme disease.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria that we can get from the bite of infected ticks, lice, bed bugs, sand flies and many other visible and invisible insects. The main bacteria are called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is called “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, the heart and the brain.

How do people get Lyme disease?

People usually get Lyme disease from ticks infected with Lyme bacteria. Most human cases are caused by immature ticks which are about the size of a poppy seed. Because their bite is painless, many people do not realise they have been bitten.

Ticks may remain attached for several days while they feed. The longer they remain attached, the greater the risk that they will pass the Lyme bacteria into your bloodstream, where they will start spreading throughout your body.

If pregnant women are infected, they sometimes pass Lyme disease to their unborn babies. Some doctors believe other types of human-to-human transmission are possible, but little is known for certain.

Where is Lyme disease found?

Lyme disease has been found on every continent except Antarctica. Lyme is fastest growing vector-borne disease, and 85 per cent of people do not remember being bitten by a tick. Less than 70 per cent of people develop a rash. The disease is difficult to diagnose because laboratory tests may be negative in the first four or six weeks.

Early symptoms of the disease include flu-like illness (fever, chills, sweats, muscles aches, fatigue, nausea and joint pain); rash: (Less than 10 per cent have classic bulls eye rash); and Bell’s palsy. Later symptoms may include headache, stiff neck, light or sound sensitivity, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, or mood swings, arthritis, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, tingling, burning or shooting pain, memory and hearing loss, and other sensory loss, high blood pressure, spinal or radicular pain.

Your child may be infected with Lyme disease too! In fact, 25 per cent of Lyme patients are children. Fifty per cent don’t have any history of being bitten by a tick. And less than 70 per cent of them even have a rash which would sensitise the parents that the child has been bitten.

Most lab tests are negative in the first four to six weeks, which make diagnoses and treatment difficult. Early symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and fatigue, all of which may soon clear up without treatment, nausea and joint pains and Bell’s palsy.

Later, the child may have headaches, stiff neck, light or sound sensitivity, learning difficulties, uncharacteristic behaviours, inability to sustain attention, outbursts and mood swings, arthritis, fatigue, abdominal pains, nausea, diarrhoea, chest pains, palpitations, shortness of breath, tingling, burning or shooting pains

After a tick bite, rash may develop around the site of the tick bite. Most of the times, the rash is an ordinary red area; however, if it is a bull’s-eye shape with a darker edge, it is a definite sign of Lyme disease and needs immediate treatment.

The rash may have an irregular shape, blisters or a scabby appearance. Some rashes have a bruise-like appearance. Lyme rashes can mimic spider bite, ringworm, or cellulitis. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no telltale rash to warn of the tick bite. And because Lyme is difficult to detect and diagnose, it may go untreated for many years and the bacteria can spread and may go into hiding in your body.

Weeks, months or even years later, you may have problems with your brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, heart and circulation, digestion, reproductive system, and skin. Symptoms may disappear even without treatment and different symptoms may appear at different times. But the Lyme parasite lives on happily in your body.

Unfortunately, Lyme may be misdiagnosed as other diseases such as mental illness, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and even hypochondria. Since scientists have not figured out the cause of these diseases, the underlying Lyme infection is allowed to progress unchecked.

To be concluded