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Eight-legged biting ticks are often described as "summer's unwelcome guest." For about 30,000 people a year in the United States and about 250,000 people a year in other countries of the Northern Hemisphere, ticks become the harbingers of Lyme disease, a chronic infection that causes rashes, muscle aches that just won't go away, chronic fatigue, and a variety of neurological symptoms. The ubiquity of the disease is something we can blame on travel.
The microorganism that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferii, has been around for thousands of years. The 5,000-year-old corpse of Ötzi the Iceman, discovered by hikers in the Alps of Austria, was found to harbor the disease. Even today, nearby Slovenia has the world's highest rates of the infection.The symptoms of the infection we now call Lyme disease were first described in 1764 by a Scottish physician named John Walker who had looked after a sick man on Deer Island (Jura) off the western Scottish coast. "Exquisite pain in the muscles," he wrote, caused by a "red worm." When Scottish people started emigrating to the United States in large numbers, also in the eighteenth century, the tick that carried the disease caught a ride with them, and it was in the United States that the disease flourished. An explorer of New England named John Josselyn had noted "there be infinite numbers of tikes (ticks) hanging upon the bushes in summer time that will cleave to man's garments and creep into his breeches eating themselves in a short time into the very flesh of a man. I have seen the stockins (stockings) of those that have gone through the woods covered with them." When the infection that causes "exquisite pain" met the "infinite numbers of ticks" in New England, it became a disease that would plague millions of people for hundreds of years, right down to the present.
Who Gets Lyme Disease? What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
- Chronic muscle pain,
- Fever, chills, and sweats,
- Unexplained lactation (in women),
- Hair loss,
- Loss of bladder control,
- Mood swings,