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Microbiology of Lyme Disease
“A team of researchers led by the Yale School of Public Health has found that the Lyme disease bacterium is ancient in North America, circulating silently in forests for at least 60,000 years—long before the disease was first described in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1976 and long before the arrival of humans”, (Caccone, 2017). Lyme disease has been an endemic a long time before we even knew it existed. It is believed that it traveled across the world through mammals. There are four kinds of bacteria that cause Lyme disease. In the United States we see Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii. In Europe and Asia there is Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii. “The most common vector-borne disease in North America, bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is spread through the bite of infected black-legged tick, commonly known as a deer tick”, (Center of Disease Control, n.d).
Borrelia burgdorferi is a gram-negative, spirochete bacteria. Since it is gram-negative the outer membrane is composed of lipopolysaccharide and the inner membrane has a layer of peptidoglycan. Even though this is a gram-negative bacteria, in gram-staining tests it shows up like a gram-positive bacteria, which is very deceiving. B. Burgdorferi can replicate to survive in its host with bacterial products. This is unlike other virulence factors, especially since this is primarily what the bacterium needs to cause disease inside its host.
Many people who own dogs know tick season is during the warmer months of the year, but ticks are around all year. Nymphs are immature ticks that are tiny (less than 2nm), which makes them harder to see. Most humans become infected through the bite of a nymph. Adult ticks are much larger, so they are easier to spot quicker, thus they get removed quicker before the bacteria is transmitted. Adult ticks carry Lyme disease too, but because of their size not as many humans become infected through their bite. Ticks attach to any skin, but they like warm and dark places, so they most commonly attach to places that are harder to see like the groin, armpits, and scalps. “It takes about 36 to 48 hours for a trick to transmit the Lyme disease bacteria into its host. The disease can be hard to diagnose because many of its symptoms are like those of the flu and other diseases, and the host probably did not notice a tick bite”. (Medline-plus, 2019)
Early Signs and Symptoms occur 3 to 30 days after the infected tick bite. These symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes may occur in the absence of rash; and the most visually prevalent, Erythema migrans rash (Occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected persons about 7 days post contact, expanding gradually over several days reaching up to 12 inches plus, warm to the touch, rarely itchy or painful, sometimes clears as it enlarges showing as a target or “bulls-eye”, (Mayo clinic, 2019).
Later Signs and Symptoms typically occur many months after the infected tick bite. These symptoms include severe headaches and neck stiffness, additional rashes on other areas of the body, facial palsy or the loss of muscle tone causing droop to one or both sides of the face, arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, intermittent pain (tendons, muscles, joints, and bones), heart palpitations and/or an irregular heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, and even nerve pain resulting in numbness and tingling in the hands or feet, (Mayo clinic, 2019).
There is no evidence that Lyme disease can be transmitted from person-to-person, meaning no transmission from touching, kissing, or having sex with an infected person. If it is acquired during pregnancy, it can lead to an infection within the placenta and possible stillbirth, however, no negative effects on the fetus have been found when the mother receives appropriate antibiotic treatment. There are no reports of Lyme disease transmission from breast milk as well, (Center of Disease Control, 2019).
Ticks are found in grassy and heavily wooded areas. The more ticks an area has, the more likely it is that they are carrying Lyme disease. Those who spend time in those areas are more likely to acquire a tick bite that has Lyme disease. It is important to take precautions and check yourself after spending time in tick-infested areas, so even if a tick has latched on, it can be removed quickly. If Lyme disease does occur the sooner treatment begins, the better the outcomes of complete recovery are possible. Most treatments include a regimen of antibiotics. “Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include doxycycline and amoxicillin. People with certain neurological or cardiac forms of illness may require intravenous treatment with antibiotics such as ceftriaxone or penicillin”, (Mayo clinic, 2019). This can be adjusted depending on the persons current and past medical history. Sometimes patients experience post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS). This is when patient experience muscular joint aches, and nervous system symptoms after they have finished treatment. Many people believe this means they still need antibiotics, but long-term antibiotics have been proven to not help with these symptoms. The only thing patients can do is treat the pain until it is gone.
In conclusion; the spirochete bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is an endemic disease known simply as Lyme disease due to its first recorded location, even though it has been discovered to be around much longer. It for now is transmitted via vector borne infected ticks, and not from any other known species, and is more often found in grassy and heavily wooded areas. The rate of infection is slow but if the host is not known to have been infected it can be hard to treat as the symptoms can be displayed as other diseases. With the sooner the application of antibiotics the faster the recovery and the healthier the life of the host will be. Until a vaccine can be discovered, humans will just need to be more careful and check each other for ticks.
- Caccone, A. (2017). Ancient History of Lyme Disease in North America Revealed with Bacterial Genomes. Yale School of Public Health. Retrieved from https://publichealth.yale.edu/news-article/15651/
- Lyme Disease Treatment.(n.d.). Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/treatment/index.html
- Clark, R.P., & Hu, L.T. (2008) Prevention of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. Infectious disease clinics of North America. 22(3), 381-vii. doi: 10.1016/j.idc.2008.03.007
- Lyme Disease (2019). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20374651
- Lyme Disease (2019). MedlinePlus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/lymedisease.html
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