Though it is caused by one tiny tick bite, the symptoms and subsequent fallout of Lyme disease can be devastating for patients. It is one of the most insidious diseases out there, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Roughly 300,000 new Lyme cases are discovered every year according to the CDC (American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and it’s also worth keeping in mind that misdiagnosis rates for the condition are unusually high. Compounding the problem is the fact that chronic Lyme is not a fully legitimate condition in the eyes of most medical bodies, residing in a complicated grey area. A tick bite can also herald other health issues, including co-infections and tick paralysis. These complications can underpin Lyme and compound its effects. But what is tick paralysis? And is tick paralysis a symptom of Lyme disease?
Tick paralysis is transmitted by over 40 species of ticks. It is particularly dangerous for animals, and has caused the death of thousands of livestock over the decades. It is also a threat for domestic animals and can occur in any region where ticks make their home. Fortunately for us, cases are much rarer in humans. The disease usually occurs in children younger than ten, under very specific circumstances. An engorged, egg-laden female tick will produce a neurotoxin in its salivary glands. This neurotoxin is transmitted to the host during feeding, using the saliva of the tick as a conduit. Because such small amounts of saliva make the transition into the host’s bloodstream, research has shown that the most potent form of tick paralysis is transmitted approximately five to seven days after the initial attachment of tick to host.
Despite the size of the tick and the tiny volume of saliva being exchanged, symptoms can sometimes be dramatic and concerning. Typical signs and symptoms include ataxia (a neurological sign that causes impaired movement and coordination) and paralysis, which usually starts in the feet or legs and moves upward. Tick paralysis does not include fever or flu-like symptoms, which are common in almost all other tick-borne diseases. The condition can become life-threatening, however, if the paralysis spreads to the torso, as it can hamper crucial organs and muscles, inducing cardiac issues and breathing difficulties. Diagnosis is fairly straightforward: if the individual lives in a tick-heavy area and has sudden-onset ataxia and paralysis in the legs, they should be thoroughly checked for ticks. No individual tests are necessary. So, what to do if you have tick paralysis? Fortunately, treatment is simple. Removing the offending tick will reduce symptoms almost immediately, and there are no residual effects. Patients just have to ensure they remove all parts of the tick from the bite.
This is a crucial difference between tick paralysis and Lyme disease and other co-infections. Tick paralysis can only exist in the presence of the tick, as it is chemically induced by the physical bite. Lyme disease is caused by invading bacteria that the tick actively transfers into the system. Once the bacteria (called Borrelia burgdorferi) invade the host’s system, the residual effects are what form the disease. The tick may be removed successfully when it is noticed, but Lyme disease can still very much be present, as long as it has had time to transfer. Not every tick will cause tick paralysis, and not every tick carries the Lyme-causative bacteria. Unfortunately, though, Lyme disease is much more prevalent than tick paralysis, and is nowhere near as easy to cure.
The first stage of Lyme is known as the acute stage, and it produces symptoms similar to the flu. These are not necessarily severe, meaning many patients underestimate them, or write them off as a mild bout of temporary sickness. The presence of a bullseye rash at the site of the bite is a sure-fire sign of Lyme, but the bite itself is not always noticed by the host. Over a couple of days or weeks, these initial symptoms will clear up, as the disease recedes and lies dormant for a time. Eventually, it will re-emerge as chronic Lyme, which causes a number of generalised, patient-specific symptoms that lend themselves to continued misdiagnosis. At this stage in the disorder, the immune system has kicked into overdrive and is causing symptoms of its own through sustained inflammation. These usually include muscle pains and aches, impaired movement, malaise and chronic fatigue. Bacteria-induced symptoms can include neurological issues and potential cardiac complications.
Treating chronic Lyme is an exceptionally difficult task and requires specialist knowledge from Lyme-literate doctors. Labs like BCA-clinic understand that chronic Lyme comes in many varied forms, and that treatment plans have to be tailored to each individual patient. It can be a long, hard road, particularly if additional co-infections are present. These must be addressed and treated simultaneously to ensure there are no residual effects. Fortunately, tick paralysis is not a symptom of Lyme per se, and one is not caused by the other. The two have very different mechanics, with tick paralysis kicking in very soon after a bite, and Lyme disease revealing itself over time. It is, however, vitally important for people to be aware of both of these potentially debilitating disorders, and limit their exposure to ticks when and where they can.