What is Lyme disease? 

Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew shaped bacteria, or spirochete, called Borrelia. Although it is most commonly associated with a tick bite, many people who have Lyme disease do not recall seeing or feeling a tick bite.

This is because ticks can crawl on a person and become embedded in the skin without being noticed. Ticks can also become embedded in areas of the body that are difficult to see, such as the scalp or back half of your body. If you don’t recall a tick bite or even a rash, you can still have Lyme disease.

A microscopic view of borrelia burgdorferi, a corkscrew shaped bacteria.
A small black bird sits on a house feeder.

Lyme disease in Canada

Although Lyme disease is more common in certain areas of Canada, animals such as birds, mice and deer can carry ticks and their pathogens to virtually any region in the country. 

There are many strains or genospecies of borrelia that cause Lyme disease (borreliosis) in humans just as there are many strains of the flu virus that cause flu symptoms in humans, with some strains more virulent than others. Diagnosing and treating Lyme disease can be very challenging!

Three stages of Lyme

The three stages of Lyme disease can rapidly become blurred together. Other pathogens in a tick can cause co-infections which can affect both symptoms and recovery time. Lyme disease that has been passed from mother to child during pregnancy can present differently than Lyme disease acquired from a tick bite.

Stage 1: Early infection (first few days after infection)

Stage 2: Infection spreads (days to weeks following infection)

Stage 3: Chronic Lyme (days to weeks after infection if left untreated, or not properly treated, for months/years after infection)

Early infection

Lyme disease is most treatable during Stage 1. As time passes, both treatment and diagnosis become more difficult. Symptoms worsen during each stage of infection, ranging from flu-like symptoms to neurological illnesses, including paralysis. 

Chronic Lyme disease

Chronic Lyme disease can affect virtually every system and part of the body, including the immune system, the endocrine (hormone) system and the neurological system.

On the rise

Lyme disease is on the rise in Canada. Because not all cases are diagnosed and reported, the actual numbers are likely much higher than previously reported. Decrease your risk of infection by taking preventative action and learning more about Lyme.

Know the symptoms

Early treatment of Lyme disease is critical, however Lyme is very difficult to diagnose because symptoms vary from person to person. Early symptoms of Lyme disease may be mistaken for the flu or other health issues. Early signs of Lyme include a rash, which may or may not look like a “bullseye”. Although an erythema migrans (EM) rash is helpful for diagnosing Lyme disease, many people with Lyme do not recall seeing a rash on their body. Initial flu-like symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, jaw pain, light sensitivity, red eyes, muscle aches, joint pain and neck stiffness.

While some Lyme victims experience immediate symptoms after infection, others may have none for many months.

Symptoms may come and go and may change over time. There are over 100 known symptoms of Lyme disease, and symptoms can overlap with diseases such as MS, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis and many other diseases. People can be misdiagnosed with one of these diseases for years before finding out they have Lyme disease.

A deer stands in a meadow out in the rain.