Caused by bites from infected ticks, about 3,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed per year in the UK and its effects can be long-lasting and tough to deal with.
The Sorry singer, 25, revealed he'd contracted Lyme disease earlier this month, after saying it had been a "rough couple of years" on Instagram. Wife Hailey Bieber later called out trolls on Instagram who downplayed his Lyme disease diagnosis. It comes as a raft of celebrities have explained that they have the condition.
Even so, many people don't know what Lyme disease actually is, so we asked Dr Aimee Brame, consultant physician at London Bridge Hospital, part of HCA UK, to tell us everything you ever wanted to know about how people get Lyme disease, what it looks and feels like, what to do if you think you have it, and possible cures.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme Disease is an infection caused by a bacteria called Borrelia, spread by ticks, those pesky reddish black parasites. But don't panic. "Only a minority of tick bites lead to Lyme disease and some ticks don’t carry the disease at all," advises Dr Brame. "Even if they do, you’re unlikely to catch it unless the tick is attached for more than 24-36 hours."
How do you get Lyme Disease?
Erm, by hanging out in the countryside, most likely. "Ticks are tiny spider-like insects (around the size of a poppy seed) found in woodland and heath areas throughout the UK, Europe and North America," says Dr Brame. "They can also be found in gardens and parks. The bites are not painful, therefore people may not realise they have been bitten." High risk areas in the UK include grassy and wooded areas in southern England and the Scottish Highlands. That's not to say you shouldn't go to these places (after all, they're pretty big) but you should wear clothing that covers your skin where possible and keep to footpaths.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
"The first symptom is usually a distinctive raised red circular rash at the site of the tick bite, which appears anywhere from three to 30 days after the bite," says Dr Brame. "This may be accompanied by flu like symptoms. However, around 1/3 of people never develop the rash. Untreated Lyme Disease can result in symptoms weeks, months or even years later, including muscle and joint pains. These symptoms are typically 'migratory', in that they move to one or more locations, and can progress to joint swelling and arthritis. The patient may develop heart rhythm abnormalities, memory loss, facial paralysis other neurological disorders or even meningitis."
Symptoms of Lyme disease tend to change the more advanced the disease becomes. "Early signs and symptoms include fever, chills, a headache, fatigue, muscle pain and swollen lymph nodes – all common symptoms of flu," continues Dr Brame.
Without treatment, symptoms may manifest into:
- Severe headaches or neck stiffness
- Rashes on other areas of the body
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly on the knees
- Loss of muscle tone or “drooping” on one or both sides of the face
- Heart palpitation or an irregular heartbeat
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands and feet
How is Lyme disease treated?
Suspected Lyme disease will require a blood test to diagnose. These tests can be carried out a few weeks after the acute infection but are often negative in the early stages, warns Dr Brame. If a test is negative, she advises re-testing a few weeks later.
"In the early stages Lyme can be treated with oral antibiotics for 2-4 weeks, and most people will feel start to feel better and have complete resolution of their symptoms within three weeks. Treatment at a late stage of the disease may involve oral or intravenous antibiotics for 2—4 weeks, but this is not always successful. Complications including arthritis, abnormal heart rhythms , and nervous system disorders can persist. Some people go on to develop chronic fatigue symptoms despite treatment."
Is there a cure for Lyme disease?
You'll be glad to know that most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with treatment, but it can take months for some people. "However," advises Dr Brame, "the longer the condition is live in the body, the harder it is to get rid of. People with symptoms of Lyme disease that last a long time after treatment may be referred to a specialist in infectious diseases."
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