Protect yourself against Lyme disease

Article

13. 04. 2021 General practitioner

Spring is finally here, and we’re all being drawn out into nature to recuperate our minds and bodies after a long, pandemic-ridden winter. But we have to be vigilant, as there are some unpleasant souvenirs you can accidentally pick up on your pleasant walk through the forest, park or field.   

We aren’t the only creatures that spring to life with the first warm day of the year- the ticks start to awaken from their winter slumber, and they seem to try to break their own record each year with how many humans they can bite. If you happen to find one of these bloodsuckers attached to your skin, remember the simple saying: the sooner, the better. In other words, the sooner you manage to remove the tick, the lesser the risk of being infected with a transmittable disease (for example, Lyme disease).                                       

Typical skin rash

Lyme borreliosis (LB) is a tick-transmitted bacterial infection caused by some members of the spirochete group Borrelia burgdorferi. The clinical manifestations of this infection are highly varied. Borreliosis can affect various organs of the body, most often the skin, nervous system, muscles, bones and, more in rare or severe cases, other internal organs.

"One of the first symptoms of borreliosis is the characteristic formation of circular redness at the site of the tick's bite, typically with a faded inner strip making it resemble a bulls-eye. This skin symptom occurs in about 70-80% of infected people, "explains Dr. Naďa Klocoková, an internist from the Canadian Medical Clinic. This is the most commonly seen symptom, however, there are other visual manifestations of borreliosis on the skin. For example, the rash does not have to look like a bright red bullseye, but rather a saturated dark red/violet nodule-like lump. "This nodule - Borrelia lymphocytoma is most often found on the earlobe, nipple or scrotum. Skin manifestations usually appear about 1 week after infection. However, that is not to say that they can’t appear even a month after infection. A characteristic phenomenon of Lyme borreliosis erythema migrans, in which skin redness moves across various parts of the body, however, this occurrence is rather rare in Europe,” says Dr. Klocoková

The consequences can be long-lasting

Skin manifestations may or may not be predecessors of neurological problems. "Lyme disease has three stages: early localised, early disseminated and late disseminated. In the first stage, we see skin manifestations, which may be accompanied by very general symptoms such as weakness, malaise, fatigue. In the second stage, which occurs weeks to months after the infection, neurological symptoms may start to appear - such as facial nerve palsy, muscle twitching, tingling, skin burning, visual disturbances, but also serious complications such as aseptic meningitis and encephalitis.

Once the muscles start getting affected, the patient may experience muscle pain and muscle weakness. Joint involvement is also accompanied by their pain, in typical oligoarthritis (inflammation of one or a few joints, most often the knee) we also see swelling and redness of the joint. The strain on the cardiovascular system can cause heart arrhythmia or long-term damage to the heart muscle. Liver or kidney damage may also occur. The late-stage begins months to years after the infection. A characteristic symptom of the late stage is acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans when there is a gradual degeneration of the subcutaneous tissue. The skin is paper-thin with a reddish-blue colouration, easily irritated. Other long-term symptoms include damage to peripheral nerves, chronic encephalomyelitis or chronic inflammation of joints and tendons, "says Dr. Klocoková.

When clothing and even repellents prove inadequate

Borreliosis is spread namely by infected ticks. The reservoir of the disease is small, infected rodents, humans are only rarely hosted. Borreliosis can also be transmitted by the lower developmental stages of ticks - nymphs. These are very small, almost invisible to the naked eye, which means that even if a patient does not report a tick bite, but is displaying the characteristic symptoms, borreliosis should always be considered and ruled out as a diagnosis.

There is some speculation that other species of blood-sucking insects can also be carriers, but this has not yet been confirmed. Because there is currently no vaccination against it, the only way we can protect ourselves from Lyme disease is via the so-called “barrier method”- i.e. clothes and repellents.  The transmission of the bacteria from the tick to a human takes approximately 24 hours, and therefore a timely and efficient removal of ticks is also a relatively reliable form of prevention.

If you do contract borreliosis, there is no cause for concern about infecting people around you, but given the permanent health implications it may have, you should go see your doctor without hesitation. "Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, and the length of the treatment should not be shorter than 3 weeks, "adds Dr. Naďa Klocoková from the Canadian Medical Clinic.

This article was prepared in collaboration with The Business Soirée magazine.

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