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Is it Lyme or a Co-infection? Knowing the Difference Can Make a Difference

0 2 years ago

As tick populations and Lyme disease cases increase, Lyme disease awareness is thankfully growing. Now, when I say I have long-haul Lyme disease, more people understand what that means. But as Lyme literacy has improved, so has the specificity of my vocabulary. Instead of just saying I have Lyme disease, or “several chronic illnesses,” I make a point to say that I have “Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.” Sure, it’s a mouthful, and sure, I sometimes get blank stares, but any awkwardness is worth the opportunity to raise awareness about co-infections. Knowing their signs and symptoms, and how they are similar and different to Lyme disease, can be lifesaving.

Co-infections are other diseases that are transmitted by ticks. Some are transmitted by black-legged ticks, the same ticks that transmit Lyme disease, and some are transmitted by other types of ticks (See GLA’s tick table to learn about different types of ticks and the diseases they carry). You can get Lyme disease and one or more co-infections from a tick bite. Or, you can get only a co-infection, but not Lyme disease.

This last one is especially important to remember. If you had a tick bite but don’t get Lyme disease, you might think, “Great, I’m in the clear!” This is dangerous thinking, because you could be overlooking another illness. Black-legged ticks can transmit co-infections like anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus. These may have funny names, but they are serious infections. Powassan virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes, and can cause meningitis and encephalitis, which can be fatal.

Some co-infections have similar symptoms as Lyme disease and are treated with the same antibiotics. In those cases, it’s okay if you can’t tell if your fever is from Lyme or ehrlichiosis, as long as you are on treatment. However, if you are only being treated for Lyme disease and your symptoms persist, or you develop other symptoms not typically seen with Lyme, this could mean you have a co-infection. For example, if you start having nightsweats, don’t assume they are from your Lyme disease; you could have babesiosis, a parasitic infection that affects the red blood cells and requires anti-malarial treatment.


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