Lyme disease is an infectious disease prevalent in North America and Europe.


  • Lyme disease is an infectious disease prevalent in North America and Europe.
  • It is caused by bacteria in ticks, which pass the infection on to humans.
  • Symptoms include a rash, fever, headache, fatigue and muscle and joint pain.
  • It is treatable by antibiotics in the early stages.
  • Late or insufficient treatment can lead to more serious 'late stage' Lyme disease.

Alternative names for Lyme disease

  • Borreliosis

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infectious disease, usually transmitted by ticks. It is easily treatable in its early stages, but "late stage" Lyme disease is much more serious. Lyme disease is a health problem in North America and Europe. It is not to be confused with tick-bite fever, prevalent in South Africa . What causes Lyme disease? Lyme disease is caused by bacteria from the genus Borrelia, which are transmitted to humans in tick-bites. Most infections are caused by immature ticks, which are small and hard to see. Ticks inhabit temperate, relatively humid wooded areas. What are the symptoms of Lyme disease? The classic symptom of Lyme disease is a red, "bulls-eye" rash, called erythema migrans, which appears at the site of a tick bite in about 80% of cases (usually between a day and a month later). The small red spot grows larger, often developing a pale centre. More rashes may then appear at different places on the body.

The rash may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as:

  • fatigue, feeling "out of sorts"
  • chills and fever
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain
  • stiff neck
  • swollen lymph nodes

If the infection is not treated promptly, it can spread and develop into a serious chronic condition.

"Late-stage" symptoms, which are very varied, can appear months or years after infection:

  • Joint pain and chronic arthritis
  • Disorders of the central or peripheral nervous system (the brain and nerves)
  • Heart inflammation, irregularities of the heart rhythm
  • Memory loss, sleep disturbances or changes in mood
  • Severe fatigue
  • Hepatitis

How is a diagnosis made?

If the patient has possibly been exposed to infected ticks, Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms. (Laboratory testing is not very reliable.) However, the diagnosis may be difficult: most people don't realise when they've been bitten by a tick, and about a quarter of patients don't get the distinctive rash. Furthermore, many of the initial symptoms of Lyme disease resemble those of other disorders, like viral flu. Late-stage Lyme disease is also easy to misdiagnose: it also "mimics" a number of other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis , chronic fatigue syndrome or multiple sclerosis. How is it treated? Most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated with a few weeks of oral antibiotics. These may be given intravenously in severe cases. However, late or inadequate treatment may allow the disease to progress to late-stage Lyme disease, which is more resistant to treatment. What is the prognosis? While Lyme disease can be completely cured if caught early, the late-stage disorder can be chronic and disabling. However, it is rarely fatal.


Pregnant women may pass Lyme disease on to their baby. However, the mother can safely prevent this by taking antibiotics early on. When to call your doctor Early diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease are vital. If you notice a "bulls-eye" rash or other symptoms, and you've been in a high-risk area, you should immediately see a doctor.

How can it be prevented?

  • Avoid tick-infested areas.
  • Use insect repellent.
  • Wear clothing that covers the skin.
  • Check for ticks after spending time outdoors.
  • Wash and dry your clothes at high temperatures to kill ticks.
  • Remove ticks with tweezers.
  • If you live in a high-risk area, clear vegetation from around your house, keep tick-infested animals away, and use pesticide in problem areas.