Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stopping Lyme Disease, Preventing an Epidemic

1975, in Lyme, Connecticut, USA, the world realized a new threat to human health. The eponymous Lyme Disease entered human language. Since then, researchers have ferreted out the cause and means of transmission of the disease, but we are still struggling to understand and fight it, even as it spreads around the US and Canada, wreaking havoc. Lyme Disease is caused by several bacteria. We currently know of three strains - Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, Borrelia afzelii, and Borrelia garinii, the first infecting the US and the latter two infecting Europe - but new strains may still be discovered. These bacteria are carried by small rodents and other animals, such as mice and squirrels, and then transmitted through ticks to humans. Ticks - parasitic arachnids found on most continents - may bite a small animal with one of these bacteria then may then bite a human, giving them the bacteria from which they contract Lyme Disease. The disease is potentially fatal if untreated. However, certain antibiotics are somewhat effective at treating the illness and eliminating symptoms. The disease usually causes a skin rash known as erythema migrans from one day to one month after a bite. This rash is an infection that is identified by circles of discoloration around the bite. Other early symptoms may be fever, headache, depression, and fatigue. Later symptoms are joint pain and stiffness, heart trouble, and problems with the central nervous system. Left untreated, the disease almost certainly causes debilitating symptoms of bodily dysfunction. The Spreading Threat Lyme Disease has been showing up all over the United States lately. It is becoming a significant problem as far south as Florida and as far west as Indiana. However, looking at the trend, the disease may soon spread across the continent. In fact, the disease has already been identified in California and along the West Coast, though it is not as big a problem as other parts of the United States. Part of the reason it is spreading so quickly is the boom in the tick population, the migration of small animals due to destruction of habitat for human building projects, and especially the increased contact between humans and ticks. As humans move into more forests and brushy areas, they are encountering more ticks and the incident of infection continues to rise. There is also a threat that other tick species might carry the disease. Currently, only the black-legged tick or deer tick is spreading the disease, that we know of. Because certain other ticks prefer non-human hosts, we have not yet confirmed if they can spread it. Treatment New treatments are being explored by scientists and doctors today, but there are only two known successful treatments as of yet: * Prevention * Antibiotics Basically, stay out of the woods and brush and you should be safe from ticks. But as it is unlikely humans will stop cutting into forests, hiking in the woods, living near trees, and feeding squirrels, Doxycycline seems the best option. Doxycycline is a powerful antibiotic that is the best known treatment for Lyme Disease. Some experts argue about the appropriate length of treatment, but all doctors seem to agree that Doxycycline is the best pill out there for curing Lyme Disease.

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