BORRELIOSIS (LYME DISEASE)
IN THE WARM SEASONS, MANY PEOPLE LIKE TO BE OUT IN NATURE. WHETHER IT IS A WALK IN THE FOREST OR A PICNIC IN THE MEADOW, TICKS LURK EVERYWHERE.
TICKS CAN BE CARRIERS OF DISEASE, ABOVE ALL BORRELIOSIS (LYME DISEASE).
Photo: © Ingo Bartussek – stock.adobe.com
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease that initially affects the skin but can affect the entire body and cause long-term consequences if left untreated. The causative agent of Borreliosis is the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The carrier is usually the common wood tick (Ixodes rizinus) that belongs to the group of hard ticks.
However, not every tick carries the bacteria. Depending on the federal province, around 20-30% of ticks are affected. This is also the case in Vienna and Lower Austria. As soon as it gets warmer, from around 5 degrees, ticks become active, climb to heights of up to one meter above the ground and wait for hosts to pass by.
Ticks can attack pets, wild animals, birds, or humans. The disease-causing Borrelia are located in the tick's intestine and are transmitted to the host through a bite. Removing the tick quickly - preferably within 24 hours - can prevent infection. The longer a tick sucks on its host, the more likely the risk of infection. Ticks often go unnoticed and those affected do not even know that they have been bitten.
The disease proceeds in stages. Immediately after the bite, the person concerned does not notice anything at first. After about 2-6 weeks a ring-shaped reddening of the skin appears around the tick bite (red ring). This ring slowly gets bigger and the so-called erythema migrans appears. Often there are side effects such as fever, headache, and muscle pain. This stage is known as the early stage. In this phase, the doctor or the patient often diagnoses the borreliosis by visual means. Sometimes the blood test is still normal - it takes a certain time until the antibodies against Borrelia can be detected in the blood.
If the condition is left untreated during this time, the symptoms on the skin often go away and develop into a chronic or late stage. The disease continues and, in addition to skin conditions, can also cause unspecific complaints to the joints, the heart and the nervous system. Diagnosis at this stage is sometimes difficult and some damage caused by the infection can be permanent. Therefore, prompt diagnosis and treatment for Lyme disease is particularly important!
Since the antibodies are often not detectable in the blood at the outset - even if the disease is active – a medical check is particularly important. It is extremely helpful if the patient can recall any tick bites from the last few weeks. In the case of erythema migrans, a diagnosis of the infection can be made by a dermatologist or family doctor without further tests. Additional examinations are possible, but treatment is usually started immediately. An infection can be detected in the blood after a few weeks. Our defence cells form antibodies against the bacteria that can be detected. It is important to note that there may be a certain window of time between the appearance of erythema migrans and the detectability of antibodies. In certain cases, the antibody values in the blood can be used to see whether there is a new or a past infection. It is important to clarify the symptoms here, as the antibodies can be elevated for many months after successful treatment.
After walking or being outdoors, you and family members should meticulously check for ticks. If you find a tick, it is important to carefully remove it.
A tick sticking to the skin should be grasped as close as possible to the site of the bite with the help of tweezers and removed by pulling. Other methods, e.g., with oil as a "lubricant" and other substances are not recommended, because the tick should never be crushed in order to avoid the release of any germs.
The area must be thoroughly disinfected, and close attention must be paid for any signs of erythema migrans. This red rash on the skin usually only appears after 2-6 weeks. A prophylactic antibiotic intake is initially not advisable or recommended.
Lyme disease can cause severe consequential damage. It is therefore important to diagnose and treat the disease as promptly as possible. In many cases, the disease can be effectively treated and as a rule the patient is cured without any long-lasting negative effects.
In contrast to the viral TBE (early summer meningoencephalitis), which is also transmitted by ticks, there is currently no approved vaccination for Lyme disease. TBE is endemic in Austria and it is recommended to vaccinate against it. The best way to do this is to contact your family doctor or general practitioner.
If Lyme disease is suspected, a dermatologist or family doctor should be consulted to diagnose the disease and begin treatment. Antibiotic treatment is usually prescribed. In the first stage, the current recommendation is to take the medication for three weeks. In advanced stages of the disease, treatment is individually devised, and antibiotics are often given for significantly longer and sometimes even in the form of injections.
Treatment for borreliosis is very individual. Certain antibiotics can cause photosensitivity and should not be used in pregnant women and children. It is important that the disease is treated for a long enough time and with the correct dosage.