With tick season underway in parts of the United States, it's important to understand the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease to determine when to seek medical treatment. Bobbi Pritt, M.D., Director of the Clinical Parasitology Laboratory in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, identifies Lyme disease signs and symptoms at AccuWeather.com.
Early signs include:
Rash: The classic targetoid, or "bull's-eye," rash is an early, visible symptom of Lyme disease and is seen in 70% to 80% of infected people, according to Dr. Pritt. This rash, technically called erythema migrans, takes about three days or more to appear at the site of a tick bite and is typically not painful or itchy.
Flu-like symptoms: Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes often coincide with the rash. If you have these symptoms, even without a telltale rash, Dr. Pritt recommends to visit a health care professional as soon as possible and possibly get treated with antibiotics.
Later signs include:
Joint pain: Arthritis of a single joint may occur weeks, months, or years after the initial infection. Dr. Pritt said usually a big joint like the knee will be affected, and the pain is often only on one side of your body.
Nervous system problems: Symptoms include temporary facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), short-term memory problems, and shooting pain and numbness in hands and feet.
According to Dr. Pritt, treatment of these more serious Lyme disease symptoms is the same—a course of doxycycline—but once the damage is done, it takes a long time to recover completely, even after the organism has been killed. “Once a person is treated, he or she is no longer infected—that’s the good news,” Dr. Pritt says. “The bad news is that there is no immunity. You could very easily get Lyme disease again if you get bitten by another infected tick.”
Dr. Pritt also discusses how to identify the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) that transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and other serious vector-borne diseases. These ticks are generally smaller than other ticks and have reddish bodies with dark-colored legs.