Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Lyme’s usual symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash named erythema migrans. To diagnose the disease, doctors usually look at symptoms, physical findings (like skin rash), and if contact with ticks might have occurred. Laboratory tests can also be required.
In general, it’s possible to treat Lyme disease by administering antibiotics for a few weeks, but if the disease if left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. To prevent being infected by Lyme disease, one should use insect repellent, remove tricks immediately, and apply pesticides against ticks, if necessary.
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Lyme disease in Texas
The disease was named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first reported in 1976, and it is now by far the most frequently diagnosed tick-borne disease in the country. The majority of cases of Lyme occur in the northeastern and north-central regions of the U.S., especially in the spring and summer.
Lyme disease was first identified in Texas in 1984 and it’s estimated that 50-275 people are infected every year in the state, caused by the blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis.
Texans are at risk of getting Lyme disease from native sources, by migrating birds and animals, and from travelling to other endemic areas. Visitors to any undeveloped countryside are at considerable risk of being bitten by ticks that carry the Lyme disease bacteria.
Ticks can be caught in high grass, golf courses, school playgrounds, farms, ranches, and in private yards. Those who engage in outdoor activities may be exposed to Lyme and should take proper precautions. Pets can also bring ticks into the home, placing family members at risk.
There are six reportable tick-borne illnesses in Texas: babesiosis, ehrlichiosis (including anaplasmosis), Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spottedfever, tularemia, and tick-borne relapsing fever. Additionally, a Lyme-like illness known as STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness), transmitted by the Lone Star Tick, is reportable as Lyme disease.
Lyme disease in Texas and STARI
A rash similar to the rash of Lyme disease has been described in humans following bites of the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, a tick very common in Texas. This rash may be accompanied by fatigue, fever, headache, muscle and joint pains and has been named southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). The cause of STARI is not known.
The rash and other symptoms of STARI usually are treated with an oral antibiotics, but it is unknown whether this medication speeds recovery. For someone living in Texas it’s crucial to be aware of any health change following a tick bite. If rash, fever, headache, joint or muscle pains, or swollen lymph nodes develop within 30 days of a tick bite, a doctor should be consulted, because those can be symptoms of tick-borne diseases like Lyme, STARI or other.
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