John Aucott on Lyme Disease

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 25,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease across the United States in 2013. Lyme disease is the leading cause of all insect-borne illness in the country. The disease takes its name from Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in the United States in 1975.

John AucottBut what exactly is Lyme disease and how does someone get it? John Aucott, a Lyme disease expert in the Division of Rheumatology at Johns Hopkins, explains preventive measures and treatments for Lyme disease in today’s Ask the Expert.

He also talks about the new Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center, housed at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, which he directs. Through this research center, Aucott is leading SLICE, the first controlled study in the U.S. to examine the impact of Lyme disease on patients’ immune systems and their long-term health.

Learn more about Lyme disease and submit your own questions for Aucott to answer.

How does a person get Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted by the bite of a deer tick. Deer ticks are common along the East Coast. They are present in wooded areas that surround our homes and areas where we enjoy the outdoors. The peak season for ticks to bite and transmit Lyme disease is during the late spring and summer, peaking in June, July and August.

What are some symptoms of Lyme disease? Is it contagious?

Lyme disease rashThe main symptoms of acute Lyme disease are those of a flu-like illness with fever, chills, achiness and fatigue. In many patients, this is accompanied by a round red skin lesion at the site of the tick bite. This usually begins several days to weeks after the bite, and the redness expands for many days or weeks when it isn’t recognized and treated. The skin lesion is often mistaken for a spider or bug bite. Lyme disease is not contagious between people.

If I find a tick on myself, do I need to get tested for Lyme disease?

The majority of tick bites do not transmit Lyme disease. If you remove an attached tick, look carefully for a round or oval red skin lesion that may develop at the site of the bite. Blood tests do not accurately diagnose Lyme disease in the first few weeks of infection, so being vigilant about looking for symptoms is a more reliable way to identify an early case of Lyme disease. Blood tests do become positive in most people after three to four weeks of infection, and they can be performed at that time if infection is suspected.

What are some preventive measures people can take to avoid Lyme disease?

The risk of getting Lyme disease is greater the longer a tick is attached. Therefore, doing tick checks is important so they can be removed before they transmit Lyme disease. Even better is to avoid being bitten by ticks in the first place. The best preventive advice is to avoid exposure in wooded, overgrown areas and to stay on trails when you hike. Deet can be used on your skin, and permethrin can be used on your clothes to help repel ticks.

Can you explain more about SLICE?

The Study of Lyme Disease Immunology and Clinical Events (SLICE) recruits individuals with the rash of early Lyme disease and follows them after standard antibiotic treatment for an additional year of observation. The study tests for changes in health and immune system function that may develop after treatment. Blood samples collected in the study are being used to develop more accurate diagnostic tests and to discover abnormalities in the immune system that may accompany the different stages of Lyme disease.

Learn more about this new center by reading the press release, “First U.S. Center to Study Lyme Disease Launched at Johns Hopkins Medicine.”

 

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