Humanimal—Lyme Disease

By Joy Pape, FNP-C and Nicole Cerniello, DVM

Last month, Dr. Cerniello and I discussed Dry Eye in both humans and animals. We started with Dry Eye because the symptoms are often more severe in the colder, dryer time of the year and our Managing/Art Editor Kim Plosia’s now late dog Ming had it for years.

Dr. Cerniello thought it was important to discuss Lyme Disease this month because although tick exposure can occur year-round, ticks are most active during warmer months (April-September). And, wouldn’t you know, Ming had recently been diagnosed with Lyme Disease.

LYME DISEASE IS DIAGNOSED BASED ON SYMPTOMS, physical findings (e.g., rash, see above), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For Humans

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Lyme disease is the most common ‘vector-borne’ disease in the United States. A vector-borne disease is carried by blood feeding insects such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas that carry a transmittable disease.

Lyme disease is mainly caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, spread to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.

It is most frequently reported from the upper midwestern, northeastern, and mid-Atlantic states.
Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks.

Laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.

Steps to prevent Lyme disease include knowing where to expect ticks and avoiding them, wearing proper clothing and gear, using the correct insect repellent, removing ticks promptly and correctly, applying pesticides properly, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.

Early diagnosis and proper antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease can help to prevent late Lyme disease. Although Lyme disease is rarely life-threatening, delayed treatment can result in more severe disease.

People who notice a characteristic rash or other possible symptoms, should consult their healthcare provider.

Of note from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:
Generally, a short course of antibiotics cures Lyme disease, although people with complicated cases need antibiotics for three to four weeks. If not properly treated with antibiotics, Lyme can cause a wide range of potentially serious symptoms.

Beware of products offering “natural” or other alternative “cures” for Lyme disease, such as oxygen, energy, nutritional, or herbal therapy. They haven’t been shown to be effective, and they may be dangerous. Antibiotics are the only known effective treatment for Lyme disease.

For animals

Lyme disease is common in dogs

Dr. Cerniello advises, “While it is hard to imagine getting a tickborne disease in NYC, it happens and happens often! So, I still recommend testing your dogs annually (sometimes every six months based on lifestyle and travel history) for Lyme disease and keeping your dogs on flea, tick and heartworm prevention all year long. Our mild winters are leading to ticks surviving throughout the winter months too. Generally, we test for Lyme disease with a small blood sample taken during wellness exams. The blood test looks for antibodies against Lyme disease as well as two other tickborne diseases called Anaplasma and Ehrlichia. This same test also tests heartworm antigens and we commonly refer to this entire test as a heartworm test or a 4Dx test. If your dog is positive for Lyme disease and does require treatment, treatment is a four-week course of antibiotics.”

If you think your dog has Lyme disease. she strongly recommends early identification and treatment because if not treated in a timely manner it can progress to Lyme nephritis (kidney disease) that can be life threatening.

We received information from the U. S. Food & Drug Administration about Lyme Disease in People and Pets. Check out the video and information at

For more information, including an in-depth educational pamphlet please contact: 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636) / TTY: 1-888-232-6348

Joy Pape, FNP-C, CDCES, CFCN is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who believes in and practices holistic health and healing.Dr. Nicole Cerniello, DVM is Medical Director for the Greenwich Village Animal Hospital.