Avril Lavigne knows firsthand how debilitating Lyme disease can be. In April, the singer revealed she’d become infected with the bacterial illness while on tour, and had been bedridden for five months as she struggled to get an accurate diagnosis. Although she is still being treated for Lyme disease, Lavigne recently returned to the stage, feeling well enough to perform at the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles last Saturday. It was the first time she’d performed in a year.
Lyme disease is transmitted when people are bitten by bacterium-infected ticks. Risk of acquiring the illness is highest in the grassy and wooded areas of the northeast and upper Midwest. In fact, in 2013, 95 percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases occurred in just 14 states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, a new report from the CDC shows that these tick-infested areas are spreading, increasing the number of high-risk areas.
In addition, because ticks are so tiny, it’s easy to miss the fact that you’ve been bitten. The longer a tick remains attached to your skin, the greater the risk of developing the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, so it’s important to do a full body check after walking or hiking through high-risk areas and to know the symptoms of Lyme disease:
- The telltale bull’s eye-shaped rash, called erythema migrans
- Neck stiffness
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever and/or chills
- Eye redness/inflammation
- In the weeks, months, or years after infection, symptoms can include various neurologic problems, such as numbness, tingling, weakness, facial nerve palsy, and meningitis
But the signs of Lyme disease aren’t always obvious. That’s because they can mimic other health conditions. “An acute flu-like illness with joint pain may be overlooked, and patients may not seek medical advice,” Margarita Rohr, MD, an internist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health in the department of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health. “Also, the classic rash may appear up to one month after the tick bite, so sometimes people think because they haven’t been in the tick-prone area recently, that they are not likely to have Lyme disease.”
Rohr points out that 20 percent of people never have the classic bull’s eye rash so they wouldn’t necessarily chalk up their other symptoms to Lyme disease. “It is important to seek medical advice even if the typical rash is not present,” she says. “A lot of the symptoms are not specific to Lyme disease, but if you experience any of the above symptoms, this should at least prompt an evaluation by your health care provider.”
The good news is that in most cases, if caught early, Lyme disease can be successfully treated with a course of antibiotics, according to the CDC.