Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. B. burgdorferi is a bacterium that is carried by a group of closely related species of ticks known as Lxodes. An infected tick can transmit the bacteria to humans and animals through its bite. The bacteria enter the body at the spot where the tick has bitten.
Ticks in the species of Lxodes, including deer ticks (also called black-legged ticks) and western black-legged ticks, are much smaller than the common dog or cattle ticks, and attach to any part of the body, most often to moist or hairy areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. The deer tick (Lxodes scapularis) is the primary carrier of Lyme disease in eastern North America.
If not treated, the bacteria travel through the bloodstream and attach to various body tissues. This may cause a number of symptoms, some of which are severe. Lyme disease is an inflammatory disorder, affecting joints, the nervous system, the heart, and the skin.
Symptoms include joint pain and flu-like signs, such as a fever, aches, and chills. Pain in the muscles and joints is common early on in Lyme disease. Many individuals experience spontaneous improvement of the pain, or a diminishment of it over time. In about 20% of people with untreated Lyme disease, arthritis (inflammation) of the joints can become chronic.
Severe symptoms include neurological (nerve) damage, including memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and changes in mood or sleep habits.
Most cases begin in the summer. In areas that have mild winters, the pattern is less seasonally specific.
If diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, Lyme disease is almost always readily cured. However, the virus may lie dormant in the body for years and reappear.
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