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Lyme disease – quick treatment is key

Doctors: Recovery depends on knowing symptoms and getting medical help

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CLEVELAND, Ohio – Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-related illness in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Alan Taege, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic, said the first sign of Lyme disease, in most people, is a circular ‘bullseye’ rash. 

“If you look to where the tick is attached or has been attached, with Lyme disease, you may start to see the expanding lesion which is called the bull's eye lesion,” he said. “It is a somewhat circular appearing thing, that first may be totally red, and then as it expands, the center may clear more. These can get quite large; they're not just little tiny dots; they may expand to several or multiple centimeters.”

The rash can range in size from a dime – to the entire width of someone’s back – and typically appears 1-4 weeks after a tick bite. 

As the infection spreads, several rashes may appear on other parts of the body too.

Taege said Lyme disease may also cause a low-grade fever, headache, achiness, and fatigue. 

He recommends calling a doctor if someone has been outdoors and suddenly feels ill and notices a suspicious red rash.

Untreated Lyme disease may develop into a more advanced infection and affect joints, cause arthritis, fatigue, or heart rhythm problems. 

Taege said, the good news, is most cases of Lyme disease can be successfully treated if caught early on. 

“The antibiotics that can be prescribed for these tick-borne diseases, if treated early and appropriately, are highly effective,” he said.

Most people benefit from 2-4 weeks of antibiotics, according to Taege. 

He stresses that the quicker treatment is started, the faster and more complete recovery will be.