Hundreds of thousands of Americans acquire Lyme disease annually, some for the first time and others for the second or third time. Yes, that’s right, you can get Lyme disease more than once, even if treated successfully the first time.
Many people think having Lyme disease once makes you immune to it, but that is false. To fully understand why, you must first learn the what, where, how, and why Lyme disease occurs.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted from the black-legged or deer tick when it bites and feeds on your blood. The infection spreads through your bloodstream, causing initial symptoms of headaches, fever, chills, sweats, swollen throat, and fatigue. You may also see a red bullseye rash that can appear anywhere on your body.
Lyme bacteria are tiny spirochetes shaped like a corkscrew or coil. Spirochetes travel spirally, attaching to cells, tissues, bones, joints, and nerves. They are extremely good at avoiding detection from antibiotics and the body’s immune system. They can go dormant, hide in the lining of cell walls, and build biofilms to protect themselves. Because they are so good at evading detection, doctors may misdiagnose the symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms?
There are three stages of Lyme disease symptoms. In the early localized or first stage, Lyme disease symptoms resemble the flu. If your doctor fails to diagnose you correctly, Lyme disease symptoms worsen. Also, new symptoms appear.
In the second stage, also referred to as the early disseminated stage, spirochetes begin to travel to various body parts. On top of feeling like you have the flu, you may experience facial paralysis or Bell’s palsy. Additional symptoms may include the following:
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Stiff neck
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle pain
- Heart palpitations
If left untreated, symptoms become late disseminated, interfering with your functioning. Third-stage symptoms include the following:
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Mental health problems
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness and tingling
How Do Humans Get Lyme Disease?
You already know that the deer tick spreads the disease to humans. How they do this is a little more complicated. Several factors must exist for you to become infected. First, you must encounter a deer tick. They live in tall grasses and brushy areas, like forests and uncut lawns. Ticks wait on the tops of grass blades for a warm-blooded mammal to walk by. Humans will do just fine.
Ticks attach to your body as you brush past them in the tall grass. Once on your body, ticks will travel around it to find the perfect spot to bite and access your bloodstream. Finding the right area may take up to 48 hours for some ticks.
Once a tick breaks your skin and begins feeding on your blood, it transmits Lyme spirochetes into your system.
How Do Ticks Get Lyme Disease?
Deer ticks have four life stages and typically only live for three years. Throughout their life stages, ticks must attach to warm-blooded animals to feed on blood for survival. The first stage is when ticks form in eggs. Once they hatch, they enter the larva stage. They are about the size of a pencil tip, which makes attaching to a small animal host much easier. Moles, mice, and birds are good options.
If any of these animals are infected with Lyme, the deer tick will acquire it. Some deer ticks do not get Lyme until the second stage of life, the nymph. Nymphs are bigger and can attach to bigger hosts, such as squirrels, rats, raccoons, and skunks. They will typically feed for a week before dropping back to the ground to grow and enter stage three, the adult tick. If their hosts are infected with Lyme bacteria, the ticks may acquire it.
Some may not get Lyme until the final life stage when they become adult ticks and attach to deer, bears, and other larger animals. They may even adhere to humans in this stage. If they have Lyme disease, they can transmit it to you. It’s important to note that not all deer ticks have Lyme infection.
How to Get Lyme Disease Twice
Suppose you are lucky enough to find a tick on you or observe the red bullseye rash. In that case, you can get to a doctor immediately and receive antibiotic treatment, which usually eliminates Lyme spirochetes before they do any damage. If you do not take preventive measures, the next time you are in a tick environment, you are at risk of acquiring Lyme disease again.
It is rare to get Lyme disease twice from the same tick since they usually die before that happens. But if you encounter a different tick with Lyme bacteria, and it feeds on your blood, you will likely get Lyme disease again.
How to Avoid Getting Lyme Disease Twice
Prevention is the best way to protect yourself from getting Lyme disease. Lyme disease specialists recommend following the AWARE protocol:
- Avoid areas where ticks thrive, such as woods and unmanicured lawns
- Wear the proper clothing, like long sleeve shirts, boots, hats, and full-length pants
- Apply EPA-approved repellent to your clothing, body, and pets
- Remove clothing as soon as you return from the outdoors
- Examine yourself and your pets for ticks
You may also benefit from taking a hot shower soon after you get inside your home and placing your outdoor clothes in the dryer on the hottest setting.
The more you know about ticks, the more prepared you will be if you find one on your body. For example:
- Check hard-to-see and reach places for ticks because that’s where they like to hide
- Remove a tick using tweezers and store it in an airtight container
- Pay attention to your body and any symptoms you experience
Finally, if you have questions or think you have Lyme disease, contact a Lyme disease specialist instead of your primary doctor. Their advanced methods and equipment can provide a more accurate diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.