COVID symptoms could actually be signs of a devastating disease that is difficult to spot but life-long.
Signs you are infected with Covid include a fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint aches, nausea and swollen lymph nodes.
Symptoms of Lyme disease may be confused with CovidCredit: Getty – Contributor
Lyme disease is a relatively rare illness found across the world, including in the UK.
It starts with an insect bite from a tick that is carrying the virus, typically in woodland or heath-land areas, which include southern and northern England and the Scottish Highlands.
If caught early, Lyme disease can be easy to treat.
However, life debilitating complications can occur if the infection is left undetected and undiagnosed, and the virus spreads to the nervous system or heart.
Some people live with Lyme disease their whole life, suffering pain, memory loss or brain fog, headaches and disturbed sleep among a list of 70 symptoms.
Similarly, Covid can leave people unwell for months on end, even after they got over their initial illness.
How can you tell the two apart?
Immunologist Dr Purvi Parikh told The Mirror that the biggest difference between Covid and Lyme disease “is the site of entry into the body”.
“Influenza, cold viruses, and coronavirus enter the body through the nasal passageways and lung tissues, so defining symptoms of these infections are most often respiratory.
“Tick-borne microbes, on the other hand, enter the body through the skin and bloodstream, so symptoms often include rashes and odd systematic symptoms.”
But when it comes to spotting the illness in yourself, there are some key differences.
In the first instance, Covid is similar to a cold in most people, causing a sniffly nose or sore throat – which Lyme disease does not.
Symptoms tend to improve within around two weeks but often much less.
You can test for Covid using lateral flow tests which are cheap to buy in pharmacies.
Lyme disease, on the other hand, is not easy to self-diagnose.
Leading charity Lyme Disease UK (LDUK) says at present, current testing is flawed. False negative results are possible and there is also no test to show you have been cured.
Around two-thirds of people are fortunate to see a clear rash that helps them easily identify Lyme disease.
In the early days, an erythema migrans rash, also known as a bull’s-eye rash, may appear.
The circular or oval-shaped rash around the tick bite is surrounded by a ring of the same colour. But the signs vary slightly.
The rash typically appears three days after infection but it could turn up three months later, and not everyone gets it.
LDUK says the disease can come in two bouts – the first that feels like flu, followed by a period of wellness, “before a slow decline”.
They say: “Sme become unwell and simply don’t recover.
“The symptoms can change from day to day as well as over longer periods of time.”
The charity says Lyme disease in fact overlaps with many conditions, including MS, dementia, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and post viral fatigue syndrome (which long Covid is one of).
About Lyme disease
There are estimated to be around 3,000 cases of Lyme disease diagnosed in England each year, according to the UK Health and Security Agency.
Studies in Europe estimate that one to five per cent of tick bites can lead to Lyme disease.
It can be treated with antibiotics if found early, which is the case for “most people”.
UKHSA says it is important to check yourself for ticks after you go to green spaces where they may be present.
Unlike other bugs, ticks typically remain attached to your body after they bite you before falling off several days later.
Prompt tick removal can reduce your chances of acquiring Lyme disease.
However, if it has bitten you, you must be careful not to yank it off.
To remove a tick safely:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool. You can buy these from some pharmacies, vets and pet shops.
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Slowly pull upwards, taking care not to squeeze or crush the tick. Dispose of it when you have removed it.
- Clean the bite with antiseptic or soap and water.
Know the signs of Lyme disease
According to Lyme Disease UK (LDUK), the most common symptoms of Lyme disease are:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Fever and chills
- Neck stiffness
- Digestive issues
- Bull’s-eye rash, known as erythema migrans (EM). This is diagnostic of Lyme disease but it isn’t always present.
- Pain and swelling in the joints (inflammatory arthritis)
- Problems affecting the nervous system – such as peripheral neuropathy, paralysis of facial muscles (Bell’s palsy)
- Cognitive problems such as memory issues, word finding difficulties and “brain fog”
- Headaches and migraines
- Heart problems – such as inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or peridcardial sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), heart block and heart failure
- Inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis) – which can cause a severe headache, stiff neck and increased sensitivity to light
- Disturbed sleep – either too little or too much
- Fatigue and post exertional malaise
- Dysautonomia – dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system causing issues with heart rate, blood pressure etc
- Vision and hearing problems
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Anxiety and depression