The autoimmune disorder Lyme disease, contracted through bites of infected ticks, calls to mind toddlers playing in overgrown backyards or hunters carrying deer on their backs. However, this isn't an isolated issue—with 340,000 new cases every year, everyone is at risk, and its effects can be much more dangerous than people think.
1. The disease can affect the entire body, especially if not treated early.
Initial symptoms include any combination of rash, fever, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, joint pain and swelling, and facial paralysis. But without early treatment, the disease can go on to ravage the heart, central nervous system, and brain.
2. Its nickname is "The Great Imitator" because it's so difficult to identify.
"My patients have usually been around the block by the time I assess them—this means dozens of physicians, prescriptions, and misdiagnoses," says Dr. Elena Frid, Neurologist, Clinical Neurophysiologist, and expert on infection induced autoimmune disorders. Lyme mimics countless diseases because of its wide range of indicators, and is often disguised by the effects of other contracted tick-borne infections. Less than half of Lyme patients are even aware they've been bitten.
3. While testing is available, it's mostly inaccurate.
Nearly 50 to 70 percent of blood tests are false negatives, which makes for constant misdiagnoses and delayed care. "Lyme requires a clinical assessment, which means including considering exposure and symptoms with the test. Early detection is the key to a full recovery: if it worsens, it can wreak havoc on every system, and become a chronic issue," says Project Lyme founder, Heather Hearst.
4. Ticks can be found anywhere…even your home.
"Public parks, even small ones in cities, can harbor ticks," says Frid. Even a stroll with your pooch could put you at risk, as anywhere with trees or foliage is a safe haven for the insects. And just because your dog has been vaccinated, it doesn't mean you're protected, too. "Many people don't realize their pet needs two shots—one that immunizes the pet, and one that kills the tick on contact, so the owner can't be bitten by one that's hitched a ride into their home."
5. Depression, memory loss, and even full-blown psychosis can develop if left untreated.
In addition to the onslaught of physical manifestations, mental health can also deteriorate. Studies show Lyme cause anxiety, brain fog, and even manic episodes if allowed to spread unchecked. Many sufferers are misdiagnosed with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder before the real cause is discovered.
6. It can cause reproductive issues, and may be passed on in-utero.
Zika isn't the only insect-borne illness for expecting women to be concerned about. Conception can become difficult in later stages, and 20 percent of babies born to Lyme-infected mothers will contract it at birth, causing major and life-threatening defects.
7. Scientists believe this could be the most dangerous summer yet.
"The Earth is getting warmer, and tick season is becoming longer. They thrive in the hot summer months," says Hearst. Starting now, make an effort to protect yourself, regardless of where you live:
- Toss your clothes in the dryer for fifteen minutes after being outdoors.
- Give yourself a head-to-toe once over in a well-lit bathroom before bed.
- Use insect repellant—Frid suggests an organic brand like Buzzaway.
- Watch for signs: a rash shaped like a bull's eye, flu-like symptoms, headaches or stiff neck, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, poor memory, inability to concentrate, facial paralysis, or heart palpitations.
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For more information on Lyme disease and what you can do to spread awareness, visit projectlyme.org (opens in new tab).
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Taylore Glynn is the Beauty and Health Editor at Marie Claire, covering skincare, makeup, fragrance, wellness, and more. If you need her, she’s probably roasting a chicken, flying solo at the movies, or drinking a bad Negroni at JFK.
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