The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it in 2020. So far it has spread across six continents and caused widespread illness in over 22 million people. The new virus has yet to be fully understood, and a vaccine has not yet been produced.
In contrast, Lyme disease is a seasoned veteran. The bacterial infection was first documented in the 70s, but it wasn’t until Willy Burgdorfer, a scientist praised for his work in medical entomology, found a connection between the deer tick and Lyme disease that it was categorized as the condition we know today.
Lyme disease is also misunderstood by many medical professionals and can lead to long-lasting symptoms and chronic illness – even with treatment. Since COVID-19 is a virus and Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, what exactly do they have in common? And could Lyme disease be misdiagnosed as coronavirus?
Lyme disease vs. coronavirus symptoms
The symptoms for Lyme disease progress from mild to severe, depending on the length of infection and how promptly treatment occurs. In cases shortly following the initial transmission of the bacteria from an infected tick, the symptoms include:
- Muscle and joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
If Lyme disease progresses further or is left untreated, it can lead to post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, which is accompanied by more serious symptoms such as:
- Brain fog and cognitive disfunction
- Facial palsy
- Cardiovascular disruption
- Chronic pain
- Chronic fatigue
Considering Lyme disease has been around for just under 40 years, the long-term effects of the bacteria have been well documented. The case is not so clear when it comes to COVID-19. The initial symptoms of coronavirus include:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle and body aches
- Loss of senses such as smell and taste
- Gastrointestinal discomfort such as pain, diarrhea, and vomiting
- General feeling of unwellness
According to new studies, these initial symptoms aren’t the only detrimental health effects COVID-19 could have. Preliminary research has found that long term chronic illness can occur and can include:
- Brain fog
- Joint aches
- Continued loss of senses such as smell and taste
- Permanent damage to the heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain
- Chronic fatigue
Could Lyme disease symptoms be mistaken for COVID-19?
Taking into account the similarities between the symptoms mentioned above, it’s quite possible for COVID-19 and Lyme disease to be mistaken for one another. The two are caused by different things (virus vs. bacteria); however, the symptoms overlap in many areas. The nonspecific symptoms that occur with both conditions can make it difficult to determine whether or not it’s Lyme disease or COVID-19.
If symptoms are caused by Lyme disease, they are often accompanied by a bullseye-shaped rash at the site of the tick bite, which will not occur with COVID-19. Furthermore, COVID-19 generally presents with a new or worsening cough and difficulty breathing, which won’t be found in Lyme disease cases. What it all boils down to when it comes to telling the difference between the two infections is respiratory symptoms.
Testing for Lyme disease and COVID-19
Both Lyme disease and COVID-19 require testing to help determine a positive diagnosis. Prior to receiving treatment for either illness, you will need to confirm a positive result. If COVID-19 is suspected, a serology test can be done to help confirm the presence of specific of antibodies in the blood. Infectolab’s serology and PCR testing capabilities can be used to detect both Lyme disease and COVID-19 in patients who exhibit symptoms of the infections. The tests, however, are not exactly the same.
In the case of COVID-19, Infectolab’s test checks for IgA antibodies, as they are found in higher amounts in the respiratory tract. For Lyme disease, the LymeSpot test is used. It works by stimulating immune cells with a specific antigen. If enough T-cells are stimulated by the antigen, a positive diagnosis is confirmed. Getting a reliable and timely test can make all the difference when it comes to the treatment of both Lyme disease and COVID-19.
Lyme disease misdiagnosis
If Lyme disease is misdiagnosed, it can take years to recover. The Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme disease can effectively “camp out” in the body, hiding in lymph nodes and scar tissue. Its ability to evade detection by the immune system response makes proper and prompt diagnosis that much more important.
Lyme disease can also be confused for a number of other conditions, which makes diagnosis even more difficult. When a person is misdiagnosed, they are then left to deal with symptoms that seemingly have no initial cause. This lack of proper treatment will then lead to chronic health issues that could last for a lifetime.
During the pandemic, many cases of illness are being tested as possible COVID-19 cases as a precaution. This effective and widespread testing will help keep more positive cases of COVID-19 documented, and could limit the number of misdiagnosed cases of Lyme disease. Getting the proper treatment for both Lyme disease or COVID-19 will make all the difference in how effective treatment and recovery will be.