What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

Springtime in New England is marked by so many great moments in nature. The evening call of peepers from ponds and vernal pools, the return of meadowlarks to the fields, and, unfortunately, the start of tick season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimates that roughly 476,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year. A disproportionate number of them are in the Northeast.

Top 5 States for Lyme Disease*

1. New Jersey     2. Vermont     3. Maine     4. Rhode Island     5. Connecticut

* States in which diagnoses of Lyme disease as a percentage of all diagnoses in the state were higher than in all other states. As numbered, states are in order from highest to lowest. SOURCE: FAIRHealth

Transmitted by the bite of the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (a spiral-shaped bacteria) that can result in distressing and potentially disabling symptoms, even with treatment. Early Lyme can produce a wide range of symptoms, or no symptoms at all, and is different in each person. Symptoms may change rapidly, sometimes within hours and may include:

  • severe fatigue
  • muscle and joint pain
  • flu-like symptoms
  • neurologic issues
  • sleep disturbances
  • cognitive problems
  • irritability
  • a bullseye rash (the surest sign of Lyme)

Due to the potential range of symptoms, diagnosing Lyme is challenging. People with Lyme may be misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and psychiatric illnesses, including depression. The delay in diagnosis and appropriate treatment allows the infection to progress unchecked.

A formal diagnosis of Lyme is made using a blood test designed to detect specific antibodies that the body produces to fight the infection. Because antibodies can take several weeks to develop, a patient may test negative if infected only recently.

If the antibodies are detected, antibiotics are prescribed. The standard treatment is an antibiotic pill taken over 10 to 14 consecutive days. Treatment may be longer if symptoms persist. 

In cases where a patient presents with long-lasting arthritis, or issues related to the heart or nervous system, IV antibiotics may be recommended.

When treated early, antibiotics cure Lyme disease in more than 99 percent of cases. However, without treatment, complications involving the joints, heart, and nervous system can occur. But then even these symptoms are still treatable and curable.

Because the number of cases of Lyme continues to rise—there are 618% more new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. than Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and West Nile Virus combined—it’s important to perform regular tick checks after spending time outdoors and to pay attention to any unusual or lingering symptoms.

If you’re concerned you may have Lyme, contact your healthcare provider. You may also want to check out this Lyme disease symptom checklist developed by LymeDisease.org. This will help you document your exposure to Lyme disease and common symptoms to share at your appointment.

James Poole, MD, is a Hospitalist and Director of SVMC Inpatient Services.


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