TickHow is Lyme disease transmitted to humans?

Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is a potentially life-threatening condition that is caused by the spiral-shaped bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted by black-legged deer ticks to humans.

There is no evidence that Lyme disease is transmitted from person-to-person. Although dogs and cats can get Lyme disease, there is no evidence they can spread it to their owners.

There is no credible evidence that Lyme disease can be transmitted through air, food, water, or from the bites of mosquitoes, flies, fleas, or lice.

How common is Lyme disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is the fifth most reported of notifiable diseases in the United States, with an estimated 329,000 new cases found annually. Profoundly underreported, some studies estimate that there are as many as 1 million cases of Lyme disease in the United States every year.

Why is timely and accurate diagnosis important?

Timely and accurate diagnosis of Lyme disease can help prevent potential complications, which include encephalitis, a brain infection; myocarditis, a heart infection; or endocarditis, a heart valve infection.

What is the infection transmission period?

A tick typically needs to be attached to you and sucking your blood for 36 to 48 hours for Lyme disease to be transmitted to you. During this time, the bacteria migrates from the tick gut to its salivary glands, before it can transmit the Lyme pathogen. So, it’s important to find the ticks early and get them off you.

The ticks most likely to transmit the bacterium are young nymphal ticks. They are about the size of a poppy seed and can be hard to detect.

Ticks on pantsHow do ticks pass to humans?

Ticks don’t jump or fly. What they do is called “questing,” which means that they wait at the ends of grass or foliage and when you brush by, they’ll immediately latch onto your leg or onto your clothing.

You really need to conduct a tick check all over your body because you won’t necessarily get bitten by the tick where the grass brushed up against your leg. Ticks can crawl to your armpit or groin and bite there, as well.

Is Lyme disease hard to diagnose?

Yes, Lyme disease is harder to diagnose because the bacteria rapidly leaves the blood and disseminates into the lymph nodes and tissues.

The current approved testing for Lyme disease is a blood test that looks for the generation of antibodies in response to the infection. The key limitation to the test is that an infected individual may take several weeks before he or she is able to mount an antibody response. At the early stage, the detection rate is 30-40 percent. After four weeks, the test tends to be very sensitive and is good for determining whether a patient is infected.

People should tell their doctor at once if they live in a high-risk area, have symptoms that could indicate Lyme disease, and have recently been exposed to ticks.

What is the best treatment option for Lyme disease?

The standard of care for early uncomplicated Lyme disease is 10 to 21 days of doxycycline, which is an oral antibiotic that you take twice a day.

If you get Lyme disease once, can you get it again?

Yes. You can get infected by a different strain of B. Burgodorferi. If you received prior treatment, that protective antibody immunity can wane over time.

Is there a vaccine for Lyme disease?

There is no current vaccine. An earlier approved vaccine, LYMErix, was withdrawn from the marketed in 2002 over concerns about its safety.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Tick biteThe signature rash of a Lyme tick bite looks like a solid red oval or a bull’s-eye. It can appear anywhere on your body. The bull’s-eye has a central red spot, surrounded by a clear circle with a wide red circle on the outside.

Other symptoms are likely to be flu-like — tiredness, exhaustion, and lack of energy; achy, stiff or swollen joints; headaches, dizziness and fever; night sweats and sleep disturbances; cognitive decline; sensitivity to light and vision changes; other neurological problems; skin outbreaks (skin rashes or large bruises without usual cause); heart problems; mood changes; and other unexplained pain.

If you have some of these signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, consult your primary care provider for testing, examination, diagnosis, and medical advice.

Deer fenceWhat can you do to protect you and your family?

  • Repel ticks on skin and clothing. The best way to avoid a tick-borne infection is not to get bitten in the first place by always using an effective insect repellent. Consumer Reports put them to the test. Look for products that contain between 15 and 30 percent DEET, an active ingredient in insect repellents. You should also look for products containing 20 percent Picaridin, another insect repellent, or 30 percent lemon eucalyptus oil.
  • Perform daily tick checks. Search your entire body for ticks after being outdoors. Throw your clothes in the dryer on high heat for ten minutes to kill any ticks that may be hanging on.
  • Create tick-safe zones in your yard. Consumer Reports says keep your lawn mowed, remove leaves and other debris, and try to let as much sun into your yard as possible. A border of wood chips or bark-style mulch around your property can also help create a barrier to keep ticks from entering.
  • Take special precautions in wooded areas. Make sure to wear long sleeves, long pants, and closed-toe shoes, and it’s a good idea to tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Remove attached ticks quickly and correctly. Remove an attached tick with fine-tipped tweezers.
  • Discourage deer. Deer are the main food source for adult ticks. Remove plants that attract deer and construct barriers to discourage deer from entering your yard.

Sources: CDC, Mayo Clinic, Healthline


The information on this blog is provided for general information purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, care, treatment or evaluation; nor should it be used in diagnosing a health condition. You are encouraged to consult your health care provider if you or a family member has or suspect you have a medical problem.