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To contract Lyme disease, you have to be bitten by an infected tick. Although the percentage of people who are bitten by a deer tick and actually get Lyme disease is small, proper precautions should still be taken in areas where ticks live. Increased awareness and prevention methods are key to helping keep the number of Lyme disease cases to a minimum.
If you're bitten and the infected tick stays attached to your skin for an extended period of time, bacteria can travel from the tick's gut to your bloodstream. Soon the bacteria migrate to parts of the body where symptoms later may occur.
Symptoms of Lyme disease may disappear spontaneously, but that doesn't mean the disease is gone. Left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the rest of your body within six months to two years, causing arthritis and nervous system problems.
The blood test most often used to screen for Lyme disease is called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). It detects antibodies to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. A diagnostic test to confirm a positive blood test has been developed as well, the Western blot.
If the disease has progressed to a later stage, the brain, nerves, heart, or joints may be affected. Hospitalization may be necessary in some cases.