In Anticipation of Good Weather in Belgrade: Ticks, Lyme Disease, and How to Protect Yourself

The arrival of warmer weather brings an increased risk of encountering ticks—tiny parasites that can be carriers of Lyme disease. Although Lyme disease is rare, if not detected and treated in time, its consequences can be significant.

Are you wondering what exactly these consequences are and how to recognize if you are infected? IntroLab Laboratory Belgrade has prepared an article for you where we will get to know Lyme disease in more detail, its symptoms, as well as methods of diagnosis and treatment. But most importantly, we will focus on how you can prevent this disease, allowing you to enjoy the upcoming pleasant weather without worry!

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an infectious disease transmitted by ticks. It is named after the town of Lyme in the state of Connecticut, USA, where it was first identified in 1975. Since then, the number of cases has been steadily increasing, especially in Europe and North America.

The causative agent of Lyme disease is the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks often carry this bacterium and transmit it to humans through bites. However, not every tick bite will lead to the development of the disease. Only ticks infected with this bacterium can transmit the disease. The presence of the bacterium in ticks can be analyzed using the Borrelia burgdorferi PCR test, which allows for precise detection.

A tick on a person's skin increases the risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is an illness transmitted through tick bites.

Interestingly, ticks are not only carriers of Lyme disease but also of a disease called babesiosis. The causative agent of this infection is a parasite from the genus Babesia, which can inhabit the tick’s intestines. It is also noteworthy that the same tick can simultaneously be a carrier of both diseases, further complicating the situation, especially considering that babesiosis can lead to the formation of blood clots. Individuals with hereditary factors for thrombophilia are particularly at risk.

Symptoms to look out for

When discussing the symptoms it is important to note that they vary from person to person and can appear anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after a tick bite.

The first symptom, which occurs in about 70-80% of infected individuals, is redness at the site of the bite that spreads in the shape of a ring (erythema migrans). This symptom can sometimes go unnoticed, especially if the bite is in a hard-to-see area. In some cases, erythema migrans is completely absent, so other symptoms may indicate that something is wrong.

Early symptoms are similar to flu symptoms and include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fever
  • Chills

If the disease is not treated, the symptoms can become serious and chronic.

a person holding their head in pain.
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of Lyme disease.

Consequences of Lyme Disease

The consequences of Lyme disease can be long-lasting. In some individuals, symptoms may persist for months or even years after treatment. This condition is known as “post-Lyme syndrome” or “Lyme neuroborreliosis.” Symptoms indicating this condition include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Memory or concentration problems

In more severe cases, Lyme disease can lead to complications such as inflammation of the heart muscle, neurological issues like meningitis and facial paralysis, as well as arthritis. These complications require long-term treatment and can significantly impact the quality of life for those affected.

Do You Have Lyme Disease?

If you have been bitten by a tick recently and are exhibiting any symptoms of Lyme disease, there is a real possibility that you are infected. However, even if you haven’t noticed a tick bite but have symptoms and have spent time in nature recently, it is a good idea to undergo certain immunological tests.

Some of the standard tests you can do at IntroLab include:

  • Borrelia burgdorferi IgG At – a test that detects IgG antibodies, indicating prior exposure to the bacterium.
  • Borrelia burgdorferi IgM At – a test that detects IgM antibodies, which can indicate a recent infection.
  • Borrelia burgdorferi IgG At WB (Western Blot) – a more precise test used to confirm the results obtained from initial testing.
  • Borrelia burgdorferi IgM At WB (Western Blot) – used for detailed differentiation of specific antibody proteins, providing greater accuracy in diagnosis.

When there is suspicion of neurological complications, it is advised to perform tests that detect:

  • Borrelia burgdorferi IgG antibodies in cerebrospinal fluid
  • Borrelia burgdorferi IgM antibodies in cerebrospinal fluid

These tests are recommended instead of serological blood tests for more accurate diagnosis.

Lyme Disease: Treatment and Prevention

Treating Lyme disease should begin as soon as possible to avoid serious complications. If the disease is diagnosed early, it can be treated with oral antibiotics, typically for two to four weeks, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

For neurological or cardiovascular complications, intravenous antibiotics are often recommended for faster and more effective treatment, especially when vital organs are at risk.

The best approach is to prevent the disease altogether. Preventive measures focus on avoiding tick bites. This doesn’t mean you should avoid spending time in nature, but it’s important to wear clothing that covers your arms and legs when in grassy areas. Additionally, using tick repellents is advised. After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check your body, clothing, and pets for ticks.

If you find a tick attached to your skin, do not attempt to remove it yourself; seek medical help instead. Improper removal increases the risk of leaving the tick’s head embedded in your skin, which raises the chances of contracting Lyme disease.

a dog walking in nature
Remember to check your pets, as well as yourself, after spending time outdoors!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Lyme disease contagious?

No, Lyme disease is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person. It can only be contracted through the bite of an infected tick.

Is Lyme disease curable?

Yes, Lyme disease is curable, especially if diagnosed early and treated promptly. Early treatment typically involves oral antibiotics, which are very effective at eliminating the bacteria. If the disease is not diagnosed until it has progressed, treatment may be longer and more intensive. However, even in advanced cases, most people recover fully.

Is Lyme disease fatal?

Lyme disease is rarely fatal. Deaths are extremely rare and usually only occur if serious cardiovascular or neurological complications are left untreated or are improperly treated.

Don’t Forget to Check Yourself for Ticks After Spending Time Outdoors!

With the arrival of warmer weather, many Belgrade residents are spending their free time outdoors, enjoying places like Avala, Košutnjak, and Ada Ciganlija. Some even choose to venture outside the city to be surrounded by nature. However, ticks—potential carriers of Lyme disease—can be found in these natural settings. Despite this risk, it doesn’t mean you should stay indoors. Enjoy the beautiful weather and greenery, but make sure to check yourself, your clothing, and your pets for ticks when you return home. If you notice symptoms such as ring-shaped redness, fatigue, headache, or joint pain, even after taking preventive measures, seek medical help immediately. Don’t despair if it’s Lyme disease; when diagnosed early, it is easily treatable. Don’t let this stop you from enjoying the benefits of warm weather.

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