Lyme disease was discovered in, and named after, Lyme, Connecticut in the mid-1970s when doctors noted a relatively large number of area children developing arthritis (joint swelling). Doctors soon realized that many of these children lived near wooded tick-infested areas and that their symptoms began during the summer months, coinciding with the height of tick season. Many of those infected reported a target-shaped rash prior to the onset of the joint swelling.
In Europe, the medical literature reports a similar rash and arthritic disease dating back to the 1900s. It is now believed that Lyme disease may have spread from Europe to the United States in the early 1900s but only recently has became widespread enough to be rediscovered.
Currently, Lyme disease is a relatively common illness found throughout the United States but with marked “hot spots” in the Northeast (Massachusetts to Maryland), the Midwest (Wisconsin and Minnesota), and the West (California). It is one of the many diseases caused by tick bites (so called tick-bourne infections).
Though spread by the deer tick, Lyme disease is actually caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi (pictured as seen under a microscope). This bacteria is found in approximately 20% of all deer ticks. If an infected deer tick (not to be confused with the more common dog tick) bites you, your chances of getting Lyme disease are perhaps 10% or less (depending on how long the tick has been feeding on you). Prompt removal of the deer tick significantly reduces your chance of getting this disease. In fact, it is quite unlikely that you will get Lyme disease if the tick is removed within 1 - 2 days of attaching to you. Unfortunately, because the deer tick is often found in its “nymph”, or baby, state, it is often not even noticed on the skin.
The American Lyme Disease Foundation warns that in addition to Lyme disease, two more tick-borne diseases are also on the rise: Ehrlichiosis (Human Granuloctic Ehrlichiosis, HGE) and babesiosis. These are carried by the same species of ticks that cause Lyme disease, namely the Ixodes species. HGE is most often found along the East Coast and in the Midwest. General symptoms are high fever, headaches, and vomiting. Symptoms for babesiosis occur approximately one to two weeks after being infected. A gradual fatigue takes over, followed by fever, sweating, headaches, and muscle pain. Babesiosis occurs on both the East and West Coasts. Lyme disease, Babesiosis, and Ehrlichiosis, are all spread by the species of tick called Ixodes (deer tick). These ticks are smaller than the common “dog tick”. Other tick-bourne diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and relapsing fever.