Vector-borne diseases are infectious diseases which are spread through a type of insects called arthropods. These insects include ticks, mosquitoes, fleas, and triatomine bugs. If you live in certain areas of the United States, it’s very likely that you’ve heard about Lyme disease in the past. This disease is relatively common in some locations of the country. It can cause a wide range of symptoms that range in severity, but how do you check for Lyme disease?
Keep reading to find out the answers to all your questions about Lyme disease detection now.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a type of bacteria called spirochete. Most cases of Lyme disease are caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, but some cases are caused by Borrelia mayonii.
The disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks that belong to the Ixodes species. According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most common disease transmitted by vectors in the United States.
The tick needs to be attached to a person for at least 24 hours before transmission occurs, but it can also occur more quickly if it feeds from other hosts during this time. Most cases of Lyme disease happen after the tick has been feeding for 36-48 hours.
Lyme disease signs and symptoms
According to the NHS, Lyme disease can cause symptoms such as:
- A circular skin rash around an area where a tick was attached (bullseye rash)
- Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, and sweats
- Neck stiffness which can last for weeks
If Lyme disease is left untreated, it can spread and cause complications in different parts of the body, such as the heart, joints, and nervous system.
Ticks generally attach to their hosts and feed on blood slowly over a period of several days, giving them enough time to transmit the disease if they aren’t caught and removed. Ticks infected with Lyme disease can carry other diseases as well, such as anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis.
How do I know if I have Lyme disease?
In order to tell if you have Lyme disease, you may need to get a Lyme disease blood test. However, many cases are diagnosed through a combination of your personal history, exposure to tick bites, physical examination, and symptoms.
According to MedlinePlus, Lyme diagnostic tests identify the presence of antibodies that your body produces in response to the disease. However, it can take a few weeks for these antibodies to show up in your blood. If you get tested before this happens, a test for Lyme disease can come back negative even if you do have the condition.
However, testing can be very useful if the clinical diagnosis for your condition is unclear. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are different types of tests used to diagnose Lyme disease, including:
- Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test
- Western blot test
According to the CDC, it’s currently recommended to get both of these Borrelia burgdorferi tests done to confirm a Lyme diagnosis. The ELISA test should be done first; if the result is positive, a Western blot test is done to confirm the diagnosis. If the ELISA result is negative, no further testing is needed.
It’s also recommended that all children aged 3 months to 18 years are screened for Lyme disease if they live in or have traveled to an area with a high risk for Lyme disease transmission.
When to get tested for Lyme disease
Only a small amount of tick bites lead to a Lyme disease diagnosis. Your healthcare provider could order a test for Lyme disease if you have a history of tick bites, and you’re showing symptoms that are consistent with this condition. You’re also more likely to get Lyme disease screening if you live in an area where the disease is common.
You should seek medical assistance if you had Lyme disease symptoms in the past, even if the symptoms went away on their own. The disease can persist even after symptoms have resolved and detecting Lyme disease in asymptomatic patients makes it possible to start treatment.
Where to get tested for Lyme disease
Testing for Lyme disease will largely depend on your location. It’s possible to get tested for Lyme disease at a traditional lab near you.
Fortunately, at-home tests for Lyme disease have also become available, and you can order them online. These tests are done using a finger prick blood sample, and you’ll need to mail the sample back to the provider according to their instructions. Some providers require that you take the sample to an approved lab yourself. Test results are typically delivered within 2-10 days.
You can learn more about many other health topics — including sexual and reproductive health, and where to get the best at-home STD test kits — at STDWatch.com now.
Lyme Disease - cdc.gov
Lyme disease - nhs.uk
Lyme Disease - medlineplus.gov
Lyme disease - mayoclinic.org
Diagnosis and Testing - cdc.gov