So much controversy surrounds the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme Disease, especially Chronic Lyme or Post-treatment Lyme disease Syndrome (PTLDS), that several myths have developed about the ticks that transmit it, the chance of contracting it, the methods for diagnosing it, and the possibilities for treating it successfully.
Here are some of those myths, their corrections, and resources to support the facts.
1. Myth: All ticks carry Lyme Disease.
Facts: The ticks that carry Lyme Disease are called deer ticks or blacklegged ticks. Only between 25% and 50% of those ticks carry the bacteria, called Borrelia burgdorferi, that causes Lyme Disease.
Further, there are many ticks located all over the world that do not carry Lyme disease, including Lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum), the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). That does not mean these ticks can’t carry or transmit diseases (see # 9 below.) But they don’t carry Lyme Disease.
2. Myth: If you are bitten by an infected deer tick, you will get Lyme disease.
Facts: A tick bite doesn’t happen in just seconds like a mosquito bite or a bee sting. A tick latches on to a person or an animal for a period of time as it sucks blood from the host. If the tick is infected, it transmits the bacteria to the host for as long as it is attached.
Experts say that the tick must remain attached to a person’s body for 24 hours or more in order for that person to develop Lyme Disease. (This is why it is recommended you check yourself, your family members and pets once a day during tick season.) A tick bite that lasts for less time will probably not transmit the disease.
According to The Lyme Disease Research Foundation, only about 2% of tick bites actually result in a diagnosis of Lyme Disease.
3. Myth: The best ways to remove ticks are to burn or suffocate them.
Fact: Experts agree that burning a tick with a match, or trying to suffocate it with nail polish, gasoline or petroleum jelly, or other such methods will not be as useful as gently pulling the tick away from the skin being careful to be sure the tick’s mouth parts come along with it.
4. Myth: The only way to diagnose Lyme Disease is by the distinctive bullseye rash.
Facts: Not everyone who has been bitten by an infected tick develops that very recognizable rash, yet they may have contracted the disease, and will still suffer the other symptoms of Lyme Disease.
There are three tests that can be given to diagnose Lyme Disease. The tests aren’t considered to be very accurate, but their existence does prove that the bullseye rash is not the only evidence of the disease.
5. Myth: Testing a tick will predict if you will get Lyme Disease.
Fact: Even if a tick was tested and found to be harboring the Lyme Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, it would not have necessarily transmitted the bacteria to anyone or any animal it might have bitten. Therefore testing a tick will not be an accurate indication of whether someone it has bitten has acquired Lyme Disease.
Because testing the tick is not a good indicator of Lyme Disease transmission, most hospital or state-run medical labs will not test ticks for Lyme bacteria. However, there are dozens of private labs that will test ticks for bacteria with prices ranging from $75 to hundreds of dollars.
6. Myth: There is a vaccine that prevents Lyme Disease.
Fact: There used to be a vaccine, but the manufacturer stopped manufacturing it in 2002 because there was not enough demand for it.
Source: Here is more information about the history of the Lyme vaccine as developed by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
7. Myth: If you have been infected with Lyme Disease, you can’t be infected again.
Facts: There is no limit to the number of times you may acquire Lyme Disease.
Unlike a virus that stimulates the body’s immune system to build antibodies so that body won’t get sick from the same virus again, bacteria do not have that same cause and effect. Without that cause and effect, it would be difficult to stop someone from developing Lyme more than once.
Therefore, you may be bitten by a Lyme bacteria-carrying tick, may be cured (or not) of tick disease, then get bitten, and sick, all over again.
8. Myth: You have to live near Connecticut to develop tick disease.
Facts: Not only can are there other kinds of ticks that carry other kinds of tick diseases in other parts of the United States and the world, but there are Lyme carrying ticks, also called deer ticks or blacklegged ticks, in other parts of the United States beyond Connecticut and the Northeast.
Further, someone may be bitten by a bacteria carrying tick, then travel to a region not known to have incidences of Lyme Disease. Doctors may avoid a Lyme diagnosis because they live and practice in an area that is not known historically as an area where Lyme-carrying ticks thrive.
9. Myth: Lyme Disease cannot be cured.
Facts: Early stage Lyme Disease, caught within the first one or two months after the tick bite that caused it, is very treatable with a course of antibiotics. When treated early, the bacteria will be killed and the patient will be cured.
Later-stage diagnoses of Lyme Disease, known officially by the CDC as Post-treatment Lyme disease Syndrome (PTLDS), also known by some Lyme experts (controversial) as Chronic Lyme, is much harder to diagnose, and therefore, to cure, if it can be cured at all. The ability to bring the person who has developed it back to “normal” depends on many aspects of its course, including length of time since the tick bite took place, they symptoms that have developed along the way, whether or not the patient can find a doctor willing to treat it, and more.
10. Myth: Lyme Disease can be transmitted from person to person.
Facts: According to the CDC, Lyme Disease cannot be transmitted sexually, or by kissing, or drinking out of the same glass as someone who has Lyme Disease. There are no reported instances of transmission from person to person or animal to person. It is transmitted only by ticks that carry the Lyme Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.
However, it has been determined that Lyme bacteria will survive in blood being stored for transfusion, although no cases of someone acquiring the infection after receiving transfused blood have been reported.