Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease

Risk Factors for Contracting Lyme Disease

by Kamau Kokayi, MD
Kamau Kokayi bw

Risk factors for becoming infected by an Ixodes tick carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the predominant spirochete bacterium that causes the disease, can be minimized by applying some commonsense precautions. It is additionally useful to have some knowledge about where the ticks that carry the disease live, and what to do if you visit or work in their natural habitat.

Incidence of the disease is most often reported in children, although the disease can affect anyone, young or old alike. Concerning physiological risk factors for Lyme, in the absence of a vaccine, if you or your children are in the tick's habitat and are bitten by a disease-carrying tick, there is no special immunity to protect you from becoming infected. It is thought, however, that people with compromised immune systems may be more susceptible to infection.


What about the Lyme vaccine?

LYMErix, a vaccine that had shown up to 90% effectiveness in preventing infection was approved and licensed by the FDA in 1998. The vaccine maker, GlaxoSmithKline (formerly SmithKline Beecham), even in light of rising infection rates, pulled the product from the market only four years later, in 2002, citing economic reasons.

The controversy surrounding the vaccine included its variable efficacy, questionable need for boosters, high cost, the exclusion of children from vaccination, and the vaccine's associated side effects and surrounding potential litigation.

The development of next-generation vaccines is in its infancy, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease is funding preclinical studies on developing and testing other candidate vaccines.

If a tick is discovered attached to your body but not yet engorged with blood, the likelihood of infection at that point is low. The longer the tick remains attached, the greater the likelihood of infection. Generally, a tick needs to be attached for 1–2 days before the Lyme spirochetes can be transmitted into your system. When removing an engorged tick, avoid crushing or squeezing body fluids from the tick into the bite, as this aids transmission of the Borrelia spirochete.


The Ixodes tick is commonly called the deer tick. Its habitat overlaps areas where deer and small rodents are commonly found. The Ixodes nymphs typically feed on small rodents, such as mice, as well as birds, whereas the larger adult tick will attach itself to deer. Hidden among the leaf litter at the edge of woods or brushy lots or in tall grass, the tick will climb or drop onto its prey in search of a blood meal. Once on a person, the small nymph's movements may not be noticed as it finds a place to feed; the larger adult tick's movements are often more easily detected.

To reduce the risk of exposure and infection, when in tick habitat wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, close off the bottoms of pant legs, tuck in or close open shirts, wear a hat, and tuck in loose hair. If a child wishes to play in a possible tick environment, take care that the child is dressed appropriately following these suggestions. Insect repellents may help repel ticks. After visiting a potential tick habitat perform a thorough tick inspection of your own or your child's body. Ticks spend time moving around upon a host in search of a suitable feeding spot. Finding and removing them early is a good preventative measure.

Having established a safe place to feed, the tick will burrow its mouthparts into the flesh of its victim and begin to draw blood into its body cavity. Tick saliva has been found to contain two proteins that promote the tick's ability to obtain a good meal while simultaneously enhancing transmission of the infectious B. burgdorferi. One of the proteins prevents blood clotting, while the other is a potent anti-inflammatory that down-regulates the immune system's response to the bacterial infection and thus its ability to kill off the spirochete. Other immunomodulatory components in the saliva include antihistamines, antioxidants, and prostaglandin E2, all of which weight the chances of infection in favor of the spirochete B. burgdorferi. The proteins have been found in saliva from nymphal through adult-stage ticks.

The best measures to take to reduce your risk of becoming infected are avoiding contact with the ticks that carry Lyme disease, performing an inspection of yourself or your children if you have been in tick habitat, and quickly removing any ticks that you find. If you suspect that you have been bitten by a Lyme-carrying tick, seek out a physician familiar with Lyme and request evaluation and testing. Early detection and treatment are the best medicine. Having been successfully treated for Lyme once, does not preclude being bitten and infected again.

Begin Your Journey to Wellness with Patients Medical

The effects of chronic Lyme disease can significantly affect your health, livelihood, and overall well-being. Conventional antibiotic therapy may provide an initial sense of relief, but if your symptoms should return, continue, or worsen in spite of conventional therapy, as they do in many Lyme sufferers, broadening your therapeutic options is a worthwhile step toward restoring both your health and your sense of well-being.

At Patients Medical we draw upon both modern and ancient healing arts to tackle the oft-times bewildering problems chronic Lyme disease presents in our patients. Our team of Lyme experts can develop a personalized, integrative treatment protocol designed to optimize your long-term health and support you in countering the symptoms and detrimental effects of Lyme disease.

Begin Your Journey to Wellness with Patients Medical

Our job at Patients Medical is to listen, to connect the dots between a patient's medical history, symptoms, and their underlying causes. Patients Medical is a superb place for women and men to secure integrative and holistic health care from providers who give personalized care, partner with the patient to focus on the root cause of their illness, support their recovery, and help them maintain good health.

To make an appointment with one of our physicians, please call us at 1-212-794-8800. We look forward to hearing from you.

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