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Lyme disease is an inflammatory disorder begun by receiving a bite from a tick that is infected by a bacterium.  The bacterium enters the body at the spot of the tick bite, and begins to multiply and travel to different parts of the body.  If untreated, it can progress to produce an infection that can take a variety of forms, but usually involves chronic inflammation affecting joints, the nervous system, the heart and the skin.

Lyme disease is a bacterial illness caused by a bacterium called a "spirochete." In the United States, the actual name of the bacterium is Borrelia burgdorferi. In Europe, another bacterium, Borrelia afzelii, also causes Lyme disease. Certain ticks found on deer harbor the bacterium in their stomachs. Lyme disease is spread by these ticks when they bite the skin permitting the bacterium to infect the body. Lyme disease can cause abnormalities in the skin, joints, heart and nervous system.

Interestingly, the disease only became apparent in 1975 when mothers of a group of children who lived near each other in Lyme, Connecticut made researchers aware that their children all were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This unusual grouping of illness that appeared "rheumatoid" eventually led researchers to the identification of the bacterial cause of the children's condition, what was then called "Lyme disease" in 1982. The number of cases of the disease in an area depends on the amount of ticks in an area and how often the ticks are infected with the bacteria. In certain areas of New York, where Lyme disease is common, over half of the ticks are infected. Lyme disease has been reported most often in the Northeastern United States, but has been reported in all 50 states as well as China, Europe, Japan, Australia and the parts of the former Soviet Union. In the United States, it is primarily contracted in the Northeast from the state of Maine to Maryland, in the Midwest in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and in the West in Oregon and Northern California.

This disease has only been recognized since November 1975 when 12 children of a small rural community, Lyme, Connecticut, were diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Nearby several other people also reported a similar type of arthritis that came on suddenly. Research was done and 51 individuals were found to have developed the same disorder in a small geographical area and at the same time of the year. Most had brief attacks of pain and swelling involving a few large joints, and many reported having noticed a peculiar, expanding, red skin area several weeks beforehand. One recalled being bitten by a tick at the site of the skin lesion. The type of rash was recognized as one that had been known to occur in Europe, where it had been associated with the bite of a sheep tick.

Find out more about Lyme Disease by clicking on the topics below.

  What is Lyme Disease  

  What Causes Lyme Disease  

  What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease  

  How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed  

  Some Risk Factors  

  Tips on Prevention  

  Treatment and Prognosis  

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