Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through tick bites from the tiny black-legged deer tick – which is found in the northeastern and north-central parts of the U.S. and is very common in the Lehigh Valley – and the Western black-legged tick found in the Pacific coastal regions of the country. It is the leading cause of all insect-borne illness in the U.S. and is most common in nine states: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, according to the Lyme Disease Foundation (LDF).
The condition most often targets the skin, joints, brain and heart, although any part of the body can be affected.
Although Lyme disease is a year-round problem, April through October is considered tick season. Cases of Lyme disease have been reported in nearly all states in the U.S. and in large areas in Europe and Asia.
Ticks prefer to live in wooded areas, low-growing grasslands and yards. Depending on the location, anywhere from less than 1 percent to more than 50 percent of the ticks are infected with spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
If a deer tick has been on your body for less than 24 hours, remove it and monitor your symptoms. If you’re able, bring the tick to your doctor so it can be tested.
Often, the first symptom is a flat, round, reddish rash at the site of the bite that appears three to 30 days after the tick bite.
Testing for Lyme Disease
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose because many symptoms mirror those found in other conditions. In addition to a physical exam there are several lab testes that your physician may order to help confirm or rule out a Lyme disease diagnosis.
Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test
This is the most common test used to detect Lyme disease, however, because it can sometimes provide false-positive results, it's not used as the sole basis for diagnosis.
The ELISA test might not be positive during early stages of Lyme disease, but sometimes the rash is distinctive enough to make the diagnosis without further testing in people who live in areas infested with ticks that transmit Lyme disease.
Western blot test
If the ELISA test is positive, this test is usually done to confirm the diagnosis. The Western blot detects antibodies to several proteins of B. burgdorferi.