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Lyme disease was first described in the mid 1970s. More than one hundred thousand cases have been reported, and it is the most commonly diagnosed insect-borne disease in the United States. The first symptom of Lyme disease is usually an expanding red rash that resembles a bull’s-eye. This appears one to four weeks after the bite of an infected tick and may measure several inches in diameter. The rash is painless and does not itch, but it may be accompanied by fever, chills, and joint pains. As the bacterium multiplies throughout the body, additional symptoms can include fatigue, severe headache, and even facial nerve paralysis (Bell’s palsy). Advanced Lyme disease can result in neurologic deficits and persistent arthritis.
The germ (classified as a spirochete) responsible for this disorder is transmitted to humans by the bite of a deer tick. The longer an infected tick remains attached to the body, the greater the risk of catching the disease.
Lyme disease responds to oral antibiotics, and the sooner these are started, the better. Lyme disease should be considered a primary diagnosis for anyone with a history of a tick bite and the classic rash, as a specific blood test cannot be relied upon early in the disease. Preventative measures include wearing long sleeves and pants when walking through woods, use of insect repellants containing DEET, and the gentle removal of any tick (using a tweezers to pull the creature straight out) as soon as it is spotted.