May: Lyme Disease Awareness Month
Updated: Oct 29
May is International Lyme Disease Awareness Month, a harmful tick-borne infection that humans, dogs, cats and other animals are susceptible to. Whilst this infection isn’t so common in Australia, it is highly contractible in other parts of the world like Asia, Europe and North America, places many of the Australian population visit each year. As such, we have decided to put together a brief overview on the basics of Lyme Disease, including what it is, who is most at risk and when it is most prevalent in the year. When doing further research, always make sure you are taking information from credible sources, such as Government Health Websites or your local veterinarian.
So, let’s talk about Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial infection that is transmitted into the bloodstream via specific species of ticks. It is not contagious and thus cannot be spread from person to person or pet to person; it can only be spread by tick vectors in any stage of their development who physically transmit the infection by biting their host. This transmission can impact a range of problems in specific areas of the body as it travels through the bloodstream, as well as creating an overall illness. If left untreated, the symptoms and impacts of the infection can get worse but are only ever fatal in very serious cases that impact vital organs. Lyme disease is usually treatable with appropriate antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. People who are bitten more than once, suffer worse symptoms each time they're bitten. People never become immune to tick bites.
Now, who gets Lyme Disease, and what are the symptoms?
For humans and animals, the symptoms of Lyme Disease differ between species. The symptoms and severity may also vary between individuals in the same species, depending on other factors such as the time it has been in their bloodstream.
For humans, the New South Wales Government Health Organisation outlines typical symptoms to include “fever, headache, fatigue, sore muscles and joints, and a characteristic skin rash”. One should also consider getting tested for Lyme Disease if they find a physical indication of a tick on their body, such as the tick itself. The diagnosis for Lyme Disease in humans is usually a screening test called ELISA and then confirmed with a western blot test.
For dogs in Lyme-Disease-risk areas, Lyme Disease is a common canine disease. Symptoms include a fever, loss of appetite, reduced energy, swelling of joints and/or generalised stiffness, discomfort or pain. There are two blood tests performed by veterinarians to diagnose Lyme Disease.
Cats, specifically outdoor cats, are also prone to tick bites, and therefore Lyme Disease. Symptoms of infected cats may include lameness, fever, loss of appetite, fatigue or even difficulty breathing. However, whilst these symptoms are common, it is important to note many cats do not show noticeable signs, despite being infected with Lyme Disease. Just with other infected species, diagnosis is based on blood tests and eliminating other potential disorders, then treated with the appropriate antibiotics.
Now, this leads us to ask…
How do you get Lyme Disease in the first place?
Ticks don’t jump or fly, instead, they attach to their hosts by waiting in thick vegetation, such as tall grass or leaf litter. In some cases, they are even known to wait in trees and fall onto unsuspecting hosts! In these areas, they wait for a host to brush past so they may latch on. A tick that carries Lyme disease can then transmit the infection once it has been attached to a human, dog or other animal for 24 to 48 hours after it finds a place to bite.
When are we most at-risk of Lyme Disease?
We are most at-risk of contracting Lyme Disease in warmer months when we are out in these denser natural environments. For Australia, peak tick season runs from September to April and although we are moving out of these months, this means many countries with Lyme Disease are moving into their own warmer months. In the northern parts of Australia, ticks are around for the whole year due to the warmer weather.