Caused by tick bites, Lyme disease is a hazard of summer. As common as it is, the disease can go undiagnosed for a long time. The ticks are easy to miss, the bites are small and often painless, and early symptoms are not always readily apparent or unique to Lyme disease. The clearest and most characteristic sign, a bulls-eye rash, is actually not as common as most people—including many doctors—believe.
Unfortunately, early detection is important to getting proper treatment in a timely manner. Many people do present with the classic pattern, but a lot of people with Lyme disease have rashes that look like contact dermatitis, lupus, insect or spider bites, or skin infections. In addition to the rash, Lyme disease initially causes flu-like symptoms; anyone showing either of these symptoms within six weeks after spending time outdoors in a wooded area should be checked for Lyme disease.
One diagnostic technique involves nanotubes, submicroscopic cylinders of pure carbon that are very good electrical conductors. These cylinders are very sensitive to biological molecules, such as bacteria, ans can be used to measure their concentration. Researchers have seen indications that nanotubes can be used to recognize and measure the bacteria that cause Lyme disease in the blood, finding infection or inadequate treatment.
Left untreated, the disease causes joint pain and neurological issues. These neurological problems, including meningitis, facial paralysis, poor muscle control, or pain or weakness in the limbs, can come years after the initial infection.
Prevention is the best strategy to fight Lyme disease. Staying out of the woods is impractical for many people, and isn’t much fun anyway. What you can do is avoid exposing too much skin while in the woods, and use tweezers to promptly remove ticks below the head when you get back—it generally takes more than 24 hours for ticks that attach themselves to transmit disease, and the sooner you remove them, the better. You should also be sure to check your pet; dogs and other animals that come into the house from outside are common sources of Lyme infection. If you do get infected, antibiotics may be able to stop the progress of the disease if administered early.