Hey, all! I’m making decent time with editing Escape from Hotel Barbaas, so it should be good to release late August-mid September. Be on the lookout for more news regarding that.
As I stated last time, I am going to be discussing an infectious disease every month, starting today. My first pick was an easy one: Borreliosis, better known as Lyme disease.
And, no, it’s not named after limes. It actually got its common name from a small port town in Connecticut where it was first documented (1).
The causative agent of Lyme disease is Borrelia spp., a family of bacteria spread by ticks. The most common strain is Borrelia burgdorferi, though its relative Borrelia mayonii has been found to cause Lyme Disease in the United States as well. There are a couple of other species of Borrelia that cause Lyme in Europe and Asia, namely, B. afzelii and B. garinii (2).
Borrelia is a family of spirochete bacteria. While spirochete sounds like some kind of mythological monster, it just means that the bacteria are shaped like spirals. Looking at the bacteria under the microscope, it’s clear to see why the order of bacteria got its name.
Despite Lyme disease being fairly well known, it is notoriously under-diagnosed, though it is the most common vector-borne bacterial disease in the United States (1). This is because it has such a wide range of symptoms that mimic other conditions, hence it’s nickname “The Great Imitator”(3). The severity is also variant, ranging from extremely mild to severe. In fact, some people don’t show any symptoms at all.
For this week’s blog post, I’ll focus on the veterinary implications of the disease, since that’s the field I’m more familiar with. I will discuss the human medicine side next time.
Many mammals can contract Lyme, though, cats don’t seem to show symptoms of it (4). Dogs, on the other hand, most certainly can. Lyme disease can affect dogs as much as it can humans, and is therefore very important to keep an eye out for ticks on your dogs. Though, many dogs who contract Borrelia are asymptomatic, others can get quite ill.
Just like in humans, it can take several weeks or even months for symptoms to develop. There is a range of symptoms; including fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. More serious symptoms include the swelling of the joints, limping, orthopedic pain, and even kidney disease(5).
The most common carrier of Lyme in the US is the blacklegged tick, also called the deer tick (5). Whenever I go over flea and tick prevention, I tell clients that the general rule is: the higher the deer population, the higher the tick population. It is very important to keep your dog (and cat—even if they’re unlikely to contract the disease, there are plenty of other health concerns associated with ticks) on an effective flea and tick preventative (6).
My personal favorite (though there are others) is Frontline or Nexgard. Both are products manufactured by Boehringer-Ingelheim (previously Merial). Unfortunately, no flea/tick preventative will keep ticks off of the pet (anti-tick forcefields have not been invented yet). However, the products should kill the ticks before they have the chance to spread Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Ticks have to be attached (actively feeding) to the pet—or person—for 24-48 hours in order to transmit disease. Frontline and Nexgard do a pretty good job, and we see some pretty good success with it. ***It is important to note that it’s recommended that you get ANY flea, tick and heartworm preventative from a licensed veterinary office. Though many flea/tick preventatives are not considered prescriptions, getting them over the counter does come with some risks, such as forgery and inappropriate storage. It is also important to note that all heartworm preventatives are treated as prescriptions because they’re used to prevent a parasite found in the heart and bloodstream.***
Your dog can be tested for Lyme at your family veterinary office. Many can do the test in-house, meaning you can get the result in ten minutes. The test we use at my work also includes a heartworm test (I will be discussing heartworm eventually), and tests for anaplasma and ehrlichia (two other tick-borne illnesses).
In conclusion, Lyme disease is a major health concern due to the fact that it is spread by ticks, and that it has a very wide range of symptoms. I will post a link (click here) to an interactive map that shows the prevalence of Lyme disease in the US and Canada (you can also choose to see the prevalence of other diseases in dogs and cats as well, it’s an awesome resource).
Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be talking more about Lyme disease in my next blog post, though I’ll be focusing more on human infection. And I’ll also have more info on my book. Until then, happy reading!