What You Need to Know About the Various Bacteria That Cause Lyme Disease
As far as the causes of Lyme disease are concerned up until recently, Lyme disease was assumed to be caused by only a few strains of a particular bacteria.
But in 2016, new research brought to light the fact that there are several pathogens that could be responsible for Lyme disease.
Let’s look at each one, and how common it is.
Borrelia burgdorferi is the most common cause of Lyme in the USA.
Most cases of Lyme appear in the Northeast, where it is transmitted by the black-legged tick, also referred to as the deer tick.
In the Pacific Northwest, it is caused by the Western black-legged tick.
And in the south, there have been rare cases of the bacteria being passed along via the Lone Star tick.
In general, ticks prefer cooler northern latitudes and are likely to be picked up in wooded areas and tall grass.
Long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks, plus insect repellent can help keep them at bay.
So too can checking your pets to make sure they are not carrying any in from outside if they tend to spend a lot of time outside.
Lyme disease from this bacterium presents as a health condition similar to the flu.
However, in about 70% to 80% of cases, the primary diagnostic factor will be what is termed a bullseye rash, red in the center, with a white ring and then a red outer ring around it.
Lyme can be contracted around the world, so travelers need to be cautious if they are planning to spend a lot of time outdoors, such as camping and hiking.
Borrelia afzelii (mainly Europe)
This appears in 85% of bullseye rashes in Europe.
The symptoms are the same as those of North American Lyme.
Many of its symptoms are related to the skin rather than mimicking the flu.
Borrelia garinii (Europe only)
This accounts for 15% of cases of bullseye rashes in Europe.
It causes various skin manifestations and can affect the brain with what is termed white matter encephalitis, that is, swelling and possible damage to the brain, and headache.
The pain can be so severe that some patients are tested for the brain infection meningitis.
In the US, two new strains of Borrelia bacteria have been discovered.
Borrelia mayonii infection has recently been discovered by researchers at the Mayo Clinic as a cause of Lyme disease in the upper midwestern United States.
It has been found in blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The patients they have studied have reported the following symptoms:
- widespread rash
- unusually high levels of spirochetes in the blood.
Borrelia miyamotoi (Asia and North America)
This strain will present with LD rash in less than 10% of cases.
The strain was discovered in Japan in the 1990s but is now present in 2 different species of ticks in the US, including the deer tick.
The symptoms can be similar to LD or to a couple of other tick-borne illnesses, such as anaplasmosis or tick-borne relapsing fever.
The trouble with the two new strains in the US discovered in 2016 is that at present there are no adequate blood tests to detect it.
Even the current Lyme titer tests that measure Lyme activity in the blood can produce false positives.
You know yourself and your own body best.
If you’ve been out in nature and saw a tick, or start to feel like you have the flu, head to the doctor for a test to see if it might be Lyme.
In many cases, the doctor will give you antibiotics just to be on the safe side, for prompt, early treatment of what can become a serious illness if left unchecked.
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