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Doctor: Practically all tick-borne Lyme disease cases clear up

Due to the expansion of the habitat of the Lyme disease-carrying tick, Finns reportedly worry about tick-borne diseases more than before. Many turn to the internet instead of a medical professional, one of whom says that essentially all Lyme disease infections clear up with antibiotics if treated early on.

Punkki imemässä verta.
A tick at work, with a 2-6 percent chance of infecting its human victim. Image: Yle

Lyme disease is a common worry amongst Finns in the summertime. An infection can have significant symptoms and even be life-threatening over months and years – but not if it is caught soon after a tick bite, says Jarmo Oksi from  the Turku University Hospital.

"There are cases of individuals ending up in wheelchairs after an untreated Lyme disease infection, but those are extremely rare," Oksi reassures. "The bacterium is eradicated from the patient with an antibiotic regimen of 2-4 weeks, and less than 10 percent of people experience any after effects."

What's more, according to the Finnish medical journal Lääkärilehti, the likelihood of a tick bite leading to a Lyme disease infection is a mere 2-6 percent. Even then the tick requires some two days to pass on the infection, which in itself can be prevented with diligent bite checks after spending time in areas with dense vegetation.

The journal also notes that tick-borne Lyme disease is most common in Åland at more than 1,200 cases per 100,000 residents.

"There are about five thousand cases annually in the entire country, and most of these are early stage infections," Oksi says.

Climate change causes ticks to spread?

The Helsinki and Uusimaa Medical District comments that tick bites are a cause for concern internationally, as well. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose as patients may often be unaware of being bitten and because doctors have not been able to rule out horseflies as a potential carrier.

Oksi considers the rapid spread of the disease-carrying castor bean tick a result of global warming, and says that the tick with its two worst weapons – Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis – may be making its way across the globe.

While a vaccination against Lyme disease does not exist, they are available as precautions against encephalitis, which in itself is also treatable.

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