What is Lyme?

A History of Lyme

While first reported in medical literature in 1883, the first case of Lyme was not reported in the United States until 1969 in the state of Wisconsin, years before it would attain national recognition. 

The history of modern Lyme disease began in the town of Lyme, Connecticut where cases of strange arthritic symptoms started to appear in the mid-1970's, both in children and adults. Local mother Polly Murray was instrumental in gaining public acknowledgement of Lyme disease through her varied efforts to attain official recognition of the illness.

In 1978, scientist Allen Steere discovered that Lyme disease was a tick-borne disease, however the cause would remain unknown until Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme), was discovered by scientist Willy Burgdorfer in 1982.

While stated to have a limited range of infection, evidence shows that cases have been reported all over the world with a high concentration of infections in North America and Europe, with reports from every state in the U.S. except Hawaii.

An estimated 300,000 people are diagnosed in the US annually, that’s more than all of the cases of breast cancer, HIV/AIDS and West Nile virus diagnosed each year combined! Many experts believe the true number is actually much higher. Locally 55,000 new cases of Lyme occur each year in Massachusetts alone!

Lyme disease is one of the most hotly debated diseases of our time causing a huge divide within the medical and scientific communities. Arguments center on how to best treat the infection and on long-term treatment. Controversy also surrounds the existence of chronic Lyme disease, as well as in utero transmission (which has been proven to occur) and whether or not Lyme can be transmitted sexually.

Unlike many illnesses Lyme disease has grown to become a hotly debated issue within both the medical and scientific communities. Arguments of how to best treat the infection and the effects of long-term infection (aka chronic Lyme disease) are central to the controversy. This is turn has caused a major divide between those that support treating chronic cases with long-term antibiotics and those who don't, instead opting for the designation "post Lyme disease syndrome" or ignoring the disease altogether.

Due to this patients generally have a difficult time finding adequate treatment and even upon doing so not within a reasonable distance.

A Lyme diagnosis also frequently entails more than one tick-borne disease under the Lyme disease umbrella. Evidence shows that tick-borne co-infections are becoming more and common as research is expanding. Multiple co-infections being found in a patient with Lyme disease is now largely the rule, not the exception.

What causes Lyme Disease?

Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete, Copyright CDC 

Lyme disease is a multi-stage systemic infectious disease (stages detailed below) most often spread by ticks that is caused by a bacterial spirochete of the genus Borrelia, with strains varying by the species of tick responsible for the bite. Known strains are Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato as well as Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii, but scientists believe there may be as many as three hundred different strains of Borrelia worldwide.

Effects can range from flu-like symptoms to debilitating chronic illness depending on when treatment is first administered. 

Cases proving transmission in utero (between mother and unborn child) have been proven to exist, but there is still much debate about whether Lyme can be sexually transmitted There is also debate as  to whether ticks are the only insects that can transmit the disease. Known disease carriers such as mosquitoes, biting flies and fleas have also been identified also possible vectors for transmission.

Stage 1
Early Localized Infection.
(The First Month) 
The infection is not yet widespread throughout the body.
Stage 2
Early Disseminated Infection.
(1 to 4 Months) 
The bacteria have begun to spread throughout the body.
Stage 3
Late Persistent Infection or Chronic Lyme Disease.
(Months to Years after initial infection)
The bacteria have spread throughout the body.

Where am I at risk?

While often referred to as a regional infection, Lyme disease is found throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and elsewhere globally. Commonly thought of as a disease that effects mostly hunters and those who spend a lot of time outdoors, this is a myth. You are just as likely to come into contact with Lyme-infected ticks hiking in the woods as you are relaxing in your backyard. Homes situated at the forests edge are a particularly high-risk area. Mice adore and thrive in this transitional area between the wild and civilization. This also attracts ticks! Deer get much of the blame for spreading disease carrying ticks but mice and birds are much more at fault. Deer are important hosts for adult deer ticks but they are actually highly resistant to Lyme disease and don’t transmit it to the ticks. Small rodents such as mice and chipmunks are the main reservoir hosts to Lyme and other tick-borne infections. Lyme is not a disease only found in rural small towns or the suburbs. You are just as much at risk in the city as you are in the country. Neither area is tick-free; therefore the possibility of coming into contact with a diseased tick remains an issue.