Government of New Brunswick

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a zoonotic disease (diseases spread from animals to people) caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick.

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms after a tick bite (3 to 30 days) include fever, muscle pain, joint pain, headache and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans.  The rash occurs in most infected persons and can appear on any area of the body.  The rash begins at the site of the tick bite slowly increases in size over a period of days.  The rash usually is painless and does not itch.  Sometimes the rash clears as it enlarges resulting in a target or “bull’s-eye” appearance.

If untreated, other symptoms can develop days to months after the tick bite.  These include additional skin rashes, heart problems, nervous system disorders, and arthritis.

 

tickbite

How is Lyme disease spread?

Lyme disease is spread by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Ticks attach by their mouth parts on bare skin and feed on blood.  In general, infected ticks need to be embedded in skin for about 24 to 36 hours before they transmit the disease to the person.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on a physician’s assessment of a patient’s clinical symptoms and risk of exposure to blacklegged ticks which carry Borrelia bacteria.  Laboratory blood tests are helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. 

New Brunswick follows Canadian national testing guidelines for Lyme disease and recommends a two-tiered testing method that includes a screening ELISA (enzyme immunoassay) test followed by a confirmatory Western blot test.  Together the two tests offer more accurate results and currently is the best laboratory method available for supplementing clinical information on Lyme disease.  These testing protocols are based on validated scientific studies that are peer-reveiwed and accepted by the scientific community.

A number of private laboratories offer testing for Lyme disease that does not follow the same testing protocols used by accredited diagnostic laboratories in Canada.  These private laboratories have been known to use testing protocols or criteria for interpreting test results that have not been validated. Results must be interpreted with caution.  Using unvalidated testing protocols can lead to misdiagnosis and patients may end up receive potentially harmful treatments.  Just as it is important to correctly diagnose Lyme disease when a patient has it; it is important to avoid misdiagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease when the true cause of the illness is something else.

Who is at risk of Lyme disease infections?

Although it is possible to be bitten by an infected tick anywhere in New Brunswick, the risk is highest in areas where tick populations are established or emerging It is important to prevent tick bite and find and remove ticks from your body. 

How is Lyme disease treated?

The treatment of Lyme disease is with appropriate antibiotics.  Treatment in the early stages of Lyme disease almost always results in full recovery.  Patients diagnosed in the later stages of the disease can have persistent or recurring symptoms and may require a longer course of treatment.

Further Information

For additional information, contact your health-care provider, local Public Health office, or Telecare 811.