How to Tell the Difference Between Lyme Disease and COVID-19

June 18, 2020

Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness, spreads through bites of infected black-legged ticks whose population is highest in June and July. Throughout the summertime, PhysicianOne Urgent Care sees an influx of patients who have been bitten by ticks and may be experiencing the symptoms of Lyme disease, but this year, there’s an additional illness to worry about: COVID-19. Because COVID-19 shares many of the same symptoms of Lyme disease, sufferers may suspect their Lyme disease is simply a mild case of COVID-19 and delay necessary medical treatment.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease and COVID-19

Many of the symptoms of Lyme disease are nonspecific and can point to a wide range of other medical conditions, not just COVID-19. For instance, most Lyme disease sufferers experience fever, body aches, fatigue, and chills, which can make it hard to differentiate their condition from COVID-19, especially right now.

There are some key differences, however, between the symptoms of COVID-19 and Lyme disease:

  • Coughing and difficulty breathing – This is a prominent symptom of COVID-19, but not of Lyme disease.
  • Bullseye rash – It’s estimated that 80% of Lyme disease sufferers develop a rash around the tick bite that gradually expands to resemble the look of a bullseye.
  • Swollen lymph nodes – Another symptom that’s often present with Lyme disease but not COVID-19, swollen lymph nodes can be a telltale sign of Lyme disease.

Why Early Lyme Disease Treatment Is So Important

Delaying treatment for Lyme disease can be dangerous to your health. When Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated—typically with antibiotics—in its early stages, most patients experience a full recovery. But if the disease is not caught early, it can lead to serious medical complications, including heart conditions, joint swelling, extreme fatigue, neuropsychiatric symptoms such as trouble with mood control and sensory processing, and cognitive deficits such as impaired fine motor control and poor memory.

This is why understanding the difference between Lyme disease and COVID-19 is so vital. If you are experiencing nonspecific symptoms, you may delay treatment for weeks, potentially causing long-term damage to your health.

How to Stay Safe From Tick Bites

As the weather warms up and more people venture outside to hiking trails and parks, the rate of tick-transmitted diseases will increase. However, there are ways to help prevent tick bites that don’t necessitate staying inside all summer long. Some effective preventive measures include:

  • Wearing long sleeves and pants
  • Using an EPA-registered insect repellent
  • Treating clothes with a product containing .5% permethrin
  • Walking in the center of trails and avoiding heavily wooded or brushy areas

After spending time outdoors, make sure to check your clothes and inspect your body for ticks. Common areas include in your hair, under your arms, in and around your ears, in your belly button, around your waist, between your legs, and at the back of your knees. It’s also a good idea to shower within two hours after being outdoors.

Treatment at PhysicianOne Urgent Care

If you have been bitten by a tick or suspect you may have been bitten by one, visit PhysicianOne Urgent Care for prompt treatment from experienced practitioners. We can evaluate your symptoms, assess your rash (if you have one), and offer a comprehensive treatment plan that meets your needs. We have urgent care facilities located in Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut—all of which are open seven days per week with extended hours—and we also offer convenient telehealth services where we can evaluate you through a secure videoconferencing platform.

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