What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme and related illnesses are infectious diseases usually transmitted by a tick bite. Reported in 50 U.S. states and many foreign countries on six continents, Lyme is caused by a spirochete, a spiral-shaped bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi), that may possibly persist in the body for years if not properly treated with antibiotics. Early detection and immediate treatment at the acute stage of the disease provide the most successful chance for a cure.

The etiology of Lyme disease is still not completely understood. The illness produced by the Lyme borrelia can take many forms, so it is often referred to as the new Great Imitator. Diagnosis is complex and must be made on a clinical basis by an experienced practitioner. To date, there is no definitive blood test for Lyme disease, although certain tests may be used to support a clinical diagnosis. Physicians take several factors into account, including potential exposure to a tick bite and other vectors, and a range of symptoms. A bull's eye rash is the only certain sign of Lyme disease, but many patients do not develop a rash, and many are unaware of a bite.

Lyme disease is often complicated by one or more tick-borne co-infections, including babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonellosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These co-infections must also be diagnosed and treated for a successful outcome.