Lyme disease is a bacterial infection resulting from the bite of an infected tick. The most common type of tick that carries the bacteria is the tiny deer tick, or black–legged tick, which is about the size of a poppy seed. Lyme disease can also be spread by the lone star tick.
A tick picks up the Lyme disease bacteria, called Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi), when it bites an animal that is infected with it (sometimes, lyme disease is referred to as lyme borreliosis). These bacteria are classified as spirochetes because of their spiral shape. Infectious lyme spirochetes, (not tics), are found in human breast milk, tears, urine and semen and can be found in mosquitos, mites, fleas and biting flies; so though tics may be the most common means of lyme disease transmission, there may be other mechanisms that transport the disease about which we may not yet know much.1
When an infected tick attaches to you and maintains contact with your blood, the bacteria can travel from the tick’s gut to your bloodstream. Once the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can move to different parts of the body. Though considered to be a bacterial infection, the borrelia spirochete (and all spirochetes for that matter) are very similar in characteristics to parasites. Common sites of infection include the skin, joints, muscles, nerve tissue, and distant skin sites. Ticks are most likely to transfer the infection to you after being in contact with your blood for two or more days.
Though symptoms originate from a bacterial infection, many people continue to feel the symptoms of lyme disease even after the infection might be gone - this is a bit of a quandary. Antibiotics are the commonly touted treatment for lyme disease, and though a course of this medication can be extremely effective at treating the symptoms for many patients, for many, bacteria continue to live in the host's system despite antibiotic treatment.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 23,444 cases of Lyme disease were reported in 2010. However, many people believe there are more people infected than these statistics would indicate.1 The disease is concentrated in certain parts of the country where both the ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria and the mice, deer, and chipmunks that the ticks live on are common. Although Lyme disease is most frequently associated with the Northeast United States, it has been reported in nearly all states.
- Buhner, S.H. Healing Lyme: Natural Healing and Prevention of Lyme /borreliosis and Its Coinfections. Silver City, NM Raven Press. 2005
Lyme disease. Lyme Disease Foundation website. Available at:
. Accessed October 5, 2008.
Reported cases of Lyme disease by year, United States, 1992-2007. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/lyme/ld_UpClimbLymeDis.htm . Updated September 2005. Accessed October 7, 2008.
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