Lyme Disease Myths and Misconceptions
There are a lot of Lyme disease myths and misconceptions.
This is because until recently many doctors doubted the condition even existed, despite more than 100 years of documented cases worldwide, and 40 years of medical history in the US.
Not every doctor is Lyme-savvy, so if you think you have Lyme disease, it is important to distinguish fact from fiction to prevent Lyme disease or to get the most effective treatment if you do happen to contract it.
Here are some of the most common Lyme Disease Myths and Misconceptions, and the true facts.
MYTH: You can get Lyme in all 50 states in the US.
Fact. Lyme has only been contracted in 14 states thus far.
However, travelers have picked up Lyme while visiting these 14 states.
In 2015, 95% of confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported from:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
Some pockets have been reported in the Pacific Northwest, such as around the San Francisco Bay area, where it tends to be cool most of the year.
MYTH: You can only catch Lyme in the US.
Fact. Lyme is present in 80 countries around the world.
If there are deer, there is a risk of Lyme being transmitted by a tick.
Myth: Lyme ticks love hot weather.
Fact. Lyme-carrying ticks prefer cooler weather in northern latitudes.
MYTH: You can catch Lyme from any tick that bites you.
Fact. Only three ticks are known to carry Lyme:
- The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick
- The Western black-legged tick
- The Lone Star tick
It is important to note that ticks can carry a range of tickborne diseases apart from or in addition to Lyme disease.
MYTH: All my strange symptoms are caused by Lyme disease.
Fact. About one-third of all Lyme patients have a co-infection, that is, an additional infection from the tick bite.
Ticks feed on mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. In doing so, they can become the vector or source of a range of illnesses.
In those with co-infections, about one-third have babesiosis, a parasitical infection of the red blood cells that is similar to malaria.
The symptoms are the same as Lyme, but patients might also experience high fever, chills, and drenching sweats.
One-third with co-infections might have Bartonella, also known as cat scratch fever because it is commonly carried by cats.
The symptoms are similar to Lyme, but may also include:
- Poor appetite
- An unusual streaked rash that resembles “stretch marks” from pregnancy
- Swollen glands in the neck and under the arms
- Neurological symptoms such as:
- blurred vision
- balance problems
- numbness in the hands and feet
- memory loss
- trouble walking and
- tremors such as with Parkinson’s disease.
If your doctor tells you that your symptoms are unusual for a person with Lyme, ask them to check for co-infection.
Fortunately, a course of one or more antibiotics can usually clear up Lyme as well as other co-infections, but the more prompt the treatment, the better.
MYTH: Everyone with Lyme disease gets a bullseye rash.
Fact. Only about 70& to 80% of Lyme patients get the bullseye rash.
Therefore, it is important to be alert for Lyme symptoms.
If you go walking in a wooded area or one with tall grass and then start to feel as though you have the flu a couple of days later, or find an attached tick on your body, it would be wise to suspect Lyme disease even if you have no rash.
MYTH: You can’t contract Lyme disease in the winter.
Fact. While it is true that most cases are reported in the spring and summer months, the deer tick can survive even in freezing climates.
Those who enjoy being outdoors in the winter and who let their pets out should still be vigilant about tick bites.
MYTH: If the test is negative, you don’t have Lyme.
Fact. The current standard blood test, known as ELISA, is not always accurate.
Its accuracy increases the longer a person has had Lyme because there will be a larger number of antibodies against the Lyme bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi in the blood stream.
At the moment, the test is only about 60% accurate.
MYTH: Antibiotics cure all cases of Lyme disease.
Fact. While it is true that early treatment with antibiotics can be effective against Lyme, the earlier it is caught, the better.
Delays in treatment can result in long-term symptoms, which are referred to as chronic Lyme disease. (CLD).
There are around 3 million Americans with Lyme disease, with 300,000 new cases being reported each year.
On average, about 20% of patients will develop CLD even after antibiotic treatment.
MYTH: If the test is positive, you do have Lyme.
Fact. The ELISA test can also have a false positive, that is, register that you have Lyme, even though you might have another health issue.
This is because you might have been exposed to Lyme in the past.
You might have had symptoms and been cured, or it may have been present in your blood stream but lain dormant.
A false positive can be a dangerous thing because the doctor will treat you for Lyme, but not for the condition you actually have.
MYTH: Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD) will go away on its own over time.
Truth: There is no evidence to suggest Lyme disease clears the body without treatment.
In fact, the opposite is true.
The longer it remains untreated, the more damage it can cause to the body.
MYTH: There’s no reason to treat Chronic Lyme Disease because once you have it, there isn’t much chance of getting any better.
Fact. This is a dangerous myth that causes lots of misery for people who could improve their quality of life if they were more proactive.
A balanced diet, exercise, antibiotic treatment as needed, and complementary therapies can all help relieve the more miserable symptoms of CLD.
MYTH: Lyme disease isn’t that serious.
Fact. Untreated Lyme disease can be fatal.
Lyme carditis can affect the heart and lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death.
Myth: If the person doesn’t look sick, they can’t have Lyme disease.
Fact. Many illnesses and disabilities are invisible.
In the case of Lyme, it’s possible to be very ill and outwardly look fine.
Typical symptoms of CLD include:
- low energy levels
- brain ‘fog.’
- memory loss
- muscle ache
- cognitive impairment to the point where people think it is dementia
- joint pain
- heart issues
MYTH: Once a person gets treatment for Lyme, they will start to feel better right away.
Fact. The worst thing about Lyme can often be the treatment.
This is because the bacteria release toxins as they die off, causing an extreme reaction in the body termed an inflammatory response.
This leads to ache, pains, flu-like symptoms, and the sensation that their bones and joints are on fire.
Flushing out the toxins by drinking lots of water with lemon juice can help, but in general, the patient just has to ride it out until the episode subsides.
These episodes are called Jarisch-Herxheimer Reactions, or Herxes for short.
They can be potentially dangerous due to them triggering severe neurological symptoms, so it is important to work closely with your doctor to minimize risk and misery.
MYTH: The only effective way to treat Lyme is with antibiotics.
Fact. While it is true that antibiotics are the foundation for effective treatment, complementary therapies can help, such as acupressure, massage, and aromatherapy.
Well. If you love walking like we do and go outside often, I recommend you download our free report What You Need To Know About Lyme Disease.
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