Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through a bite from a bacterium infected tick. In addition to causing arthritis, it can affect the heart, brain and cause nerve problems. The number of reported cases of Lyme disease, as well as the number of geographic areas in which it is found, has increased. Lyme disease has been reported in nearly all states in this country, although most cases are concentrated in the coastal northeast, Mid-Atlantic States, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and northern California. Lyme disease is also found in large areas of Asia and Europe. Recent reports suggest that it is also present in South America.
Warming temperatures in the last years are making it easier for ticks to survive in higher altitudes and northern areas that would normally be too cold for them. "Lyme is expanding geographically, moving northward and moving up in elevation, and it is a major public health threat" said Richard Ostfeld, a senior scientist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. This is enabling black-legged ticks that carry Lyme disease and other infections to begin feeding several weeks earlier than usual. This could increase the risk for Lyme disease over the coming decades, researchers say.
People infected with Lyme disease may in the early stages experience flu-like symptoms like a stiff neck, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain. They may notice a large, expanding skin rash around the area of the tick bite. As the disease advances, arthritis, heart and nerve problems may occur.
In its early stages, Lyme disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics. The sooner a person is diagnosed with Lyme disease the faster and more complete recovery is. Avoidance is the best prevention but recognizing the early symptoms can help catch the disease before it advances.
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