Is it covid or Lyme Disease? If you’re vaccinated and have a rash, it’s easier to diagnose
June 3rd—It’s tick season, and with it comes an increased risk of contracting Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness.
Diagnosing the disease can be trickier this year amid the covid-19 pandemic, as some of the symptoms of the diseases are similar.
“There’s a lot of overlap,” Dr. Amesh Adalja said of the symptoms between Lyme disease and covid-19.
Adalja is a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Lyme disease and covid-19 both can cause fever and aches and pains associated with the flu. But each have symptoms that help to distinguish one from the other, Adalja said.
With Lyme disease, a bull’s-eye skin rash develops around the spot of the tick bite.
With covid, the flu-like symptoms are generally accompanied by respiratory problems not associated with Lyme.
“Most tick bites are innocuous and do not transmit an infection,” Adalja said.
But there are a host of bacterial and viral illnesses, including Lyme disease, that are spread by exposure to certain ticks.
In the U.S. there are 16 different diseases transmitted by ticks, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most common among them in Western Pennsylvania is Lyme disease, transmitted by the deer tick, according to the Allegheny County Health Department.
In 2019, the latest year that data is available, there were 6,763 confirmed and 2,235 probable cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania, according to the CDC. Between 2000 and 2018, there have been more than 106,000 cases in the state, according to tickcheck.com, a site managed by Pennsylvania-based tick researchers.
In Allegheny County there were 2,306 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2019, an 11% decrease from the 2,605 cases in 2018, according to the county health department.
Westmoreland County had 435 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2019, down from 496 in 2018, according to CDC data. The county had a high of 577 cases in 2017.
To prevent Lyme disease, one needs to use common sense and do things that may be unpopular when spending time outdoors, Adalja said.
They include wearing clothing that covers the arms and legs, using tick repellent, being careful in wooded areas and looking for ticks that may have latched on.
They’re “standard, common-sense recommendations,” Adalja said.
Otherwise, if someone is bitten by a tick, they don’t need to seek immediate medical treatment.
Instead, they should be aware “for the next several weeks” should they develop a rash, fever or muscle aches that are associated with Lyme disease, which is signaled by a “bull’s-eye rash” around the bite.
“Lyme can be treated with an antibiotic,” Adalja said.
Because the symptoms of fever and flu-like symptoms are similar to covid-19, people who may have been exposed to ticks should advise their doctor of it.
He again advised people to get vaccinated for covid. If they are vaccinated against covid and develop symptoms of Lyme disease, they should tell the doctor about their vaccination in order to speed the diagnosis.
For more on Lyme disease, click here for information from the Allegheny County Health Department or click here for information from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer.