How do you know if you’ll get Lyme disease from a tick bite?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a a species of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is most commonly transmitted by the bite of a tick of the Ixodes genus. People who spend a lot of time outdoors in areas where ticks with this bacterium are present, are considered to be more at risk of Lyme disease, especially during the summer season.
If you’re outdoors and you’re bitten by a tick, one of the hallmark symptoms showing you may have been infected with Borrelia is what’s known as a bullseye rash around the tick bite.
By bullseye, we mean the rash looks like a circle with some concentric rings expanding out from the insect bite. It may also just look like a red rash but it usually does look more brightly colored red at the outer edges. Take a look here to see some examples.
There is data to suggest only 30-50% of people infected with Borrelia get the bullseye rash so it’s important to note that absence of this rash does not mean you are safe from infection.
A red rash can be caused by other bites
Because some people are particularly sensitive to insect bites, at times people could be bitten by an insect and a standard rash gets confused with a rash signifying Lyme disease. So at this stage it’s very difficult to tell if the person who’s been bitten will develop Lyme disease.
If you’ve been bitten by a tick, it should be removed promptly and correctly. You can keep the tick and send it to a laboratory for testing. Ask the person removing the tick to place it in a container – it doesn’t need to be placed in any formaldehyde or alcohol. In fact, these agents can make it impossible for the lab to detect what bacteria the tick has. So just keep it in the container and you can send this away to a lab and check the bacteria it holds.
If you are bitten by a tick and especially if you see a bullseye rash or a red rash, it’s a good idea to check the area where you were bitten and see if the ticks in this area are known to carry Borrelia and other coinfections. If you’re in the US you can check this recent map for areas prone to Lyme disease, published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is important to realize, however, that not every case is reported to the CDC so data may be misleading due to underreporting. If you’re in another country, you can check this list to see which countries are affected by Lyme disease. So far, the illness has been found to occur in over 80 countries.
The acute stage of Lyme disease
The bullseye rash can develop 3-30 days from the tick bite so it is not an immediate way to tell if you will become infected with tick borne bacteria. Many people experience symptoms before a rash develops although some may not develop symptoms for several weeks. Most common symptoms during this early stage are flu like symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches, joint pain, headache, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.
If you’re in an area prone to Lyme disease
If you’re in an area which is known to be prone to Lyme disease, then it’s thought to be best to take a full course of oral antibiotics to eliminate any chance of an infection taking hold. Most practitioners recommend starting treatment right away even before test results are back if you sent the tick in for testing or are testing yourself. Testing for Lyme disease involves looking at your antibody response, and your immune system may not mount a response for several weeks – see our previous blog post here on why testing for Lyme disease is tricky.
The antibiotics used include: doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime. You should see a Lyme literate doctor to give you this treatment. The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) guidelines recommend 4-6 weeks of doxycycline if a known bullseye rash is present.
Some people like to consider immune boosting herbs immediately following exposure to ticks. Some herbs that are effective for helping the body to fight infections naturally are Cat’s Claw, Siberian Ginseng and Echinacea. Garlic, Licorice and Skullcap are herbs that can be used for protecting against bacterial growth.
It can be helpful to know how long the tick was attached to you. There is some data to suggest a tick needs to be attached to you for 24 – 36 hours before it will infect you with Lyme bacteria. However, a 2015 literature review concluded there is no minimum attachment time for transmission of infection. Some studies have shown infection can be transmitted in less than 24 hours. Having an idea how long the tick was attached may be helpful, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle and there are no clear cut rules.
Ticks inject you with an anaesthetic when they bite you. This anaesthetic usually means you don’t find the tick until it wears off which is usually about 24 hours later.
Because Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, treat and cure, it’s probably best to research the areas you spend time in outdoors. If these areas are prone to ticks with Lyme bacteria, take precautions not to get bitten in the first place. See our story here about Tick Bite Prevention.
People with Lyme disease can have many symptoms, both early on, and as the infection progresses if not adequately treated. Some symptoms include: skin rashes where they were bitten, chronic fatigue, muscle pain, fever, frequent headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, facial palsy, tingling in the hands and feet, a racing heart, and difficulty remembering things on a short-term basis.
Dr. Burrascano is a well-recognized specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and other infectious diseases. He devised a checklist after 25 years working in the area of diagnosis in the US. You can download the Burrascano checklist here. This is a pretty comprehensive list of symptoms and can help your clinician assess your probability of having Lyme disease.
If you get a high score on the Burrascano Chart, the Holistic Hospitals we refer you to on our page, will take you and do further tests when you arrive, if you’re unable to do tests where you live.
Everyone’s journey with tick borne illness is individualized. Ticks carry not only Borrelia bacteria, but other coinfections such as Babesia, Bartonella, and various viruses which can make the symptom picture unique. The timing of symptoms and appearance or absence of a rash varies from individual to individual. It is important to work with Lyme literate practitioners who will take all of your information into consideration and craft a personalized, holistic plan just for you.
This article was written by Lyme Support (https://www.lymesupport.com) – Your Healing Connection. Lyme Support is a support network for people affected by tick borne illnesses. We are your ally on your healing journey and connect you with resources and education so you can find the healing path that works best for you. Lyme Support can refer you to hospitals in Germany and Mexico offering advanced holistic Lyme protocols. We can also provide personalized health coaching using a functional medicine approach.
For anyone struggling with a Lyme-like illness, a hospital that treats the body as a whole can offer a great deal of help. If you’d like more information about these specialized hospitals, we can help schedule you at a hospital and provide education on treatments. We strive to advocate for tick-borne illness by writing articles and speaking at conferences and support groups. Share you story with Lyme Support, where we understand your journey.
You can reach us at Lyme Support via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at +1415.228.0296.
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