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Lyme Disease

Symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease

Lyme diagnosis is often difficult, because it is typically a clinical diagnosis. This means that the diagnosis must be based on a combination of symptoms, patient history and exclusion of other possibilities. Unfortunately, it also means that for patients who have not spotted a tick and do not develop the rash, it may take weeks or months to diagnose the disease.

There are several tests of varying accuracy for Lyme disease. Typically, the default test most doctors will utilize is the ELISA test, which is a standard test for antibodies done in a lab. Unfortunately, this test has a rather low accuracy, only catching approximately 40 percent of Lyme cases.

In order to get other, more accurate tests, one must usually make a specific request. The laboratory IGeneX, located in California, is the foremost national laboratory on tick-borne illnesses and Lyme disease in particular. This lab will run a complete panel of tick illness tests. This lab has an accuracy rating of roughly 80 percent, which is the highest accuracy in the nation.

Lyme disease treatment is best done as soon as the disease is suspected. There is considerable debate among doctors nationwide regarding the best, or even most effective, treatments. Currently, Lyme treatment consists of high-level intensive antibiotics over the course of several months.

One of the few generally agreed facts regarding Lyme disease is that prevention is the best treatment. First, when going into known tick territory (which is most wild areas), wear long sleeves and long pants. Tuck your pants into socks and your shirt into your pants. Light colors are preferable, as the ticks are easier to spot. Applying tick repellent is strongly recommended. After you've been in a tick-infested area, carefully check your body for ticks.

If you do find a tick, take either fine tweezers or a pair of forceps and remove the tick. Carefully grasp the tick near the mouth and pull it straight out. Do not burn, squeeze or twist the tick when removing it. Burning and twisting will break off the mouthpiece and leave it in the skin, where the tick's saliva can still cause infection. Squeezing it will cause the tick's body fluids to flow into your skin, also potentially infecting you. Once the tick is removed, wash your hands thoroughly and apply antiseptic to the site.

If you do find and successfully remove a tick, save it after removal. Most state CDCs offer testing of ticks for Lyme and other illnesses at little or no cost. This test can tell you if the tick was carrying Lyme or another illness. Treatment is most effective early on, so if a tick you've removed tests positive, you should insist upon immediate treatment, even if you are not displaying any symptoms.

Finally, make certain to recall the most common civilized carriers of ticks: pets. Dogs and cats that are allowed outdoors frequently carry deer ticks indoors with them. Close, careful examination can reveal ticks on animals just as with humans, but fur can make this difficult. The surest way to stop pets from bringing ticks into contact with their owners is to make certain they constantly have some protection from fleas and ticks.

By C.M. Porter

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