Myths About Lyme Disease

Lyme disease has more misinformation and urban legends attached to its name than most diseases. With accurate information being so hard to access the likelihood of an increases in new infections grows. Below is outlined the most common myths and misconceptions about Lyme disease and an explanation of the truth.

#1. Lyme Disease is rare.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the yearly Lyme total is 300,000+ new infections. Many experts suggest it is much higher- 300,000 to 1,000,000+. An estimated 53,000 new cases of Lyme occur in Massachusetts per year! The numbers say it all- Lyme disease is not rare!

#2. Lyme Disease is easily treated.

When treated early further complications of the disease can be avoided. However, once it has been allowed to proliferate through the body it can take months or even years to recover. Treatment can also be very expensive, so getting better often relies on what a patient is able to afford. Costs can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars a month and is not always covered by insurance. Coverage can be denied by insurance companies, who often cite that long-term treatment is unnecessary or experimental, making this decision in conflict with current scientific research and medical standards.

 #3. A negative test means you don’t have Lyme Disease.

The laboratory tests used to diagnose Lyme disease are extremely inaccurate and have remained unchanged for over 30 years. Positive cases are missed up to 50% of the time due to this inaccuracy and the very strict CDC diagnostic criteria. The current tests were actually intended for surveillance of Lyme cases not for diagnosing patients. Diagnosis of Lyme and it’s associated diseases is largely a clinical diagnosis. The United States also largely tests for only one strain when there are in fact numerous strains. This leads to many false negatives.

#4. Everyone with Lyme gets a Bulls-Eye Rash.

Often thought of as the most definitive early symptom of Lyme disease, the Bull’s-Eye rash is not as common as people think it is. Experts suggest that the rash is seen in as little as 30% to 60% of cases, with rashes also going unnoticed due to body hair and unusual placement on the body. Non-specific rashes or no rash at all are not uncommon.

#5. Lyme infection is similar to having the 
flu and/or predominately involves the joints.

While “flu-like” symptoms are a common complaint, especially at the onset of infection, this is by no means the only manifestation of the disease. As for Lyme arthritis, not all patients suffer joint involvement, particularly arthritis of the knee, a commonly referenced symptom. Symptoms can range from cardiac, dermatological, musculoskeletal, neurological to psychiatric. Every person’s experience is different.

#6. All doctors are educated about Lyme Disease.

In fact, the opposite of this statement is true. The majority of doctors are not educated about Lyme and/or base their professional opinion of the disease and it’s diagnosis and treatment off of a narrow set of guidelines by the Infectious Disease Society of America, which are both outdated and inaccurate. Patients often end up having to work with a Lyme-Literate doctor (LLMD) in order to receive proper treatment.

#7. Ticks only carry Lyme Disease.

Commonly referred to as "nature's dirty needle" ticks often are harboring more than one pathogen. Some patients have been infected with as many as five co-infections along with Lyme disease (multiple strains). These can include Babesia (multiple strains), Bartonella (multiple strains), Anaplasmosis/Ehrlichiosis, Mycoplasma, Colorado tick fever, Powassan encephalitis, Relapsing Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Q Fever, tick paralysis and Tularemia among others.

#8. Chronic Lyme Disease does not exist.

Despite ravenous denials by the CDC, Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is plenty of evidence that Lyme disease can become a chronic persistent infection. Those who deny the existence of chronic Lyme continually ignore this new research and largely quote themselves and their fellows in the current Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment guidelines written by the IDSA.

#9. Risk of Lyme infection is isolated to certain areas.

The idea that Lyme disease is limited to specific geographical areas is completely false. Often described as a regional infection, Lyme is now found throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere globally. Other tick-borne infections are also now being seen throughout the country, including new strains of Lyme.

#10. Only Deer Ticks carry Lyme Disease.

Actually multiple species of tick carry Lyme disease and can carry numerous different tick-borne infections as well. As with many aspects of Lyme disease this subject is also one rife with controversy and disagreement. Being cautious of all species of tick and enacting proper prevention methods is the best way not to become infected.

#11. A tick must be attached for a certain
period of time for disease transmission to occur.

This is a hotly debated issue as some experts say it needs to be at least 24 hours or more and others say there is no set time. Couple this with the fact that many individuals either don’t remember how long the tick was on them or simply never saw one at all and it only further makes estimating attachment time difficult. One fact that is known for sure is that the longer a tick is on you the higher your risk for infection becomes.

#12. Lyme is a disease that only outdoorsy types get.

While those who spend a lot of time outdoors have a significantly higher chance of infection, anywhere you are exposed to tick-friendly environment is not without risk. Certain areas of your backyard (forests edge, garden, brush) is no more safe than taking a hike in the woods and even if you spend more time indoors than out, we all have factors in our lives that can lead to ticks getting into our homes. One of the most common ways a person can become infected without having to go outside is via pets. Many families allow their cats and dogs to roam outside and by doing so provide ticks with the perfect host. Once in our homes our pets often will lay on furniture, carpets etc. and ticks can find their way to us.