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Lyme Disease, Odd Discovery and 9 Things You Should Know

Lyme disease

With the arrival of spring, summer and Lyme disease risk is not far behind. This tick-borne disease can be difficult to detect and treat, and it can cause life-altering symptoms, which makes the new odd discovery about the disease especially interesting. At the same time, there are some important things you should know about Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is a yearly threat to millions

The threat of Lyme disease hangs over hundreds of millions of people in North America and Europe every year, and it’s all because of a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi that is carried by deer ticks. While prompt treatment with antibiotics may ensure a complete recovery, some people miss or ignore the signs of the disease and delay treatment, which can leave individuals with life-long symptoms.

A new odd discovery about B. burgdorferi may help scientists find new ways to treat the disease. A team from Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the University of Texas, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that the bacterium requires abnormally high levels of manganese and can exist without iron. This is odd because all other known organisms require iron to exist.

However, B. burgdorferi is able to substitute manganese to make the enzyme it needs to survive and thrive. This ability also allows the bacterium to avoid the immune system’s natural defense, which is to protect the body by starving disease-causing organisms of iron.

This means that scientists may now look for new treatments for Lyme disease that involve manganese, according to molecular biologist and one of the study’s authors, Valeria Culotta, of JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health. Borrelia has certain manganese-containing enzymes that may be a suitable target.

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So while the new batch of bacteria-carrying ticks ready themselves for another season, scientists are planning to investigate how the bacteria acquire and use manganese. A better understanding of this process will hopefully lead researchers to new ways to prevent and treat Lyme disease.

9 things to know about Lyme disease
Here are nine things you should know about Lyme disease.

  • The longer a deer tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of developing Lyme disease. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly check your clothing and your body, including your head, after you have been outside in grassy or wooded areas. Also use a tick repellent when venturing outside during the late spring and summer months.
  • The earliest signs of Lyme disease are a bump (where the tick attached itself to the body) surrounded by a red ring (often called a bull’s-eye pattern) and rash. Some people develop the rash at multiple places on the body. Other early symptoms may include fever, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Even if the symptoms disappear, that doesn’t mean the disease is gone, so it is important to see your doctor.
  • Other signs and symptoms of Lyme disease may occur within weeks or months of the initial infection. They include joint pain, irregular heartbeat, liver inflammation (hepatitis), eye inflammation, and severe fatigue.
  • Untreated Lyme disease can result in memory problems and other cognitive disturbances, chronic inflammation of the joints, facial palsy, and heart rhythm abnormalities.
  • Even when treated, Lyme disease may leave lingering, life-long damage. Although most people who are treated even in the later stages of the disease respond well to antibiotics, about 10 to 20 percent go on to experience some cognitive problems, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and muscle aches that may improve over time on their own.
  • Lyme disease generally is not a fatal disease. However, there have been a few reported cases of deaths associated with Lyme carditis (inflamed heart).
  • If you suspect you have Lyme disease, it is best to see a doctor who is familiar with the condition, typically one who is board certified in infectious diseases. The American Lyme Disease Foundation has a link to physician referrals for Lyme disease on its website.
  • An iPhone app for Lyme disease was developed by the American Lyme Disease Foundation in collaboration with Yale School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is an iPhone app for Lyme disease. It provides information about tick locations, how to identify disease-carrying ticks, and what to do if you have been bitten by a tick.
  • An average of 25,000 people in the United States develop Lyme disease each year. Among individuals outside the United States, high rates of the disease are seen in Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

Summer weather and outdoor activities may also mean a threat of tick bites and Lyme disease. Be prepared and take steps to prevent Lyme disease.

Also read about natural immune boosters for Lyme disease

American Lyme Disease Foundation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Gideon Online
Halperin JJ et al. Common misconceptions about Lyme disease. American Journal of Medicine 2013; March. Article in press.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Image: Morguefile