Lyme Disease

Information for health care professionals

Lyme disease can resemble many disorders. Here you will find information on what to look for and on testing for Lyme disease.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease can be deceptive. It has been mistaken for many other disorders ranging from the flu in its early stages to Lou Gehrig’s disease, meningitis, arthritis, Bell’s Palsy and others in its later, advanced stages. Lyme disease has a relatively long incubation period so many patients may not associate being outdoors with feeling ill. If you think Lyme disease is a possibility, getting your patient’s recent travel history may help your diagnosis.

A wide range of symptoms

Lyme disease can show a wide range of symptoms, from fever, chills and fatigue in its early stages (resembling the flu) to joint pain, central nervous system disorders, partial facial paralysis and even heart irregularity. Untreated, it can have serious health consequences for your patient.

The incidence of Lyme disease is increasing

Lyme disease, transmitted to humans through tick bites, has been on the rise. This is due, at least partly, to climate change. Conditions, favourable for ticks, are getting seasonally longer (earlier in the spring and later in the fall) and are moving farther north into regions like Ontario.

One of the many challenges facing health care providers is the initial subtlety of the tick bite itself. Tick bites may not irritate their host. Therefore, the host may not experience any pain or itching resulting from the bite. It is not uncommon for a patient to be completely unaware of a tick bite.

The clock is ticking

Bites from ticks infected with Lyme disease may result in a bull’s-eye-like rash. Additionally, other symptoms of Lyme disease can occur in a similar time frame. These timelines are not exact, but they do apply in the majority of patients. And they are a good clue for health care providers.

Detected early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, curing most cases. Untreated, Lyme disease can begin to attack the central nervous system, the brain or the heart.

The recommended test

To test for Lyme disease, Canada follows a two-step procedure. The sensitive ELISA test is first used as a screen and, if the results are positive, it is followed with the Western Blot test. If you suspect Lyme disease, this approach is advised.

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