7 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Lyme Disease
Most people have heard of Lyme disease, the infection that is passed onto humans (and animals) through the bite of a tick. Celebrities – like authors Amy Tan and Rebecca Wells and singer Avril Lavigne – have spoken publicly about their struggles with Lyme disease, so many people even recognize that it can be serious. There are, however, still many myths about this rapidly growing health concern that might get in the way of you or a loved one being accurately diagnosed and getting the proper treatment. Here’s what you need to know:
Ticks carry many infections, not just Lyme disease.
Lyme disease gets the media spotlight, but it is only one of about a dozen common infections that ticks transmit to humans. In some regions, these other infections are even more common than Lyme! The hitch is that if you have multiple tick-borne infections but only treat Lyme, you can’t get rid of the Lyme and will only get worse over time. This happened to our own son. We knew he had Lyme disease when he was younger, but no one suggested checking for other tick infections. Three years later (by which time he was seriously ill), we found out he had two other tick infections…and still had Lyme.
Many who get tick infections don’t even know they’ve been bitten by a tick.
You don’t have to be an avid outdoors person tramping through the woods to get tick infections; plenty of people get them in their own yards (anywhere there are deer and mice, which are tick carriers). You can pick up ticks walking your dog, gardening, just walking across the lawn, or from your pets. The ticks that transmit infections are tiny – the size of the period at the end of this sentence. So, even if you carefully check yourself for ticks after being outdoors (something everyone should do), you can still miss one. They like to hide in dark, tight places, like behind your ears, in armpits, on your scalp, and in the groin area, which makes them even harder to find.
The characteristic rash only occurs in about 50% of Lyme cases and doesn’t always look like a bulls-eye.
You may have heard that Lyme causes a rash that looks like a bulls-eye. Yes, it does…but only sometimes. In some cases, the rash looks nothing like a bulls-eye, just like an ordinary red rash, and in a full 50% of cases, there is no rash at all, so no telltale sign that you’ve been bitten by a tick. However, the opposite is true: if you do get that characteristic bulls-eye rash, then you absolutely do have Lyme disease (and possibly other tick infections, too).
Blood tests – even the very best ones – are prone to false negatives, so a negative test result doesn’t mean you don’t have Lyme.