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I live in a Lyme-tick-rich place – central Massachusetts. I know many people who have gotten Lyme disease from a tick. I recently had a tick bite me and, on testing the tick, the tick did have Lyme disease in it.

I was on antibiotics – Doxycycline – within three days.

Do antibiotics prevent you from getting Lyme Disease?

What Is Lyme Disease?

First, a quick summary. It was only 1975 when doctors near Lyme, Connecticut finally realized that their patients weren’t “crazy” but really did have serious real symptoms from a tick-borne disease. The problem is a bacterium inside the tick -Lyme borreliosis – which the tick gets by sucking on infected deer etc. The bacterium is then inside the tick, so when they bite a human, now the saliva from the tick gets into the bite wound and the human gets Lyme borreliosis inside them. That then causes Lyme Disease.

Does Everyone Infected with Lyme Disease Get a Bullseye Rash?

I’ve had doctors say “You don’t have a rash so you’re all set”. THAT IS NOT TRUE. Many Lyme-infected people do NOT get a bullseye rash. Always take precautions if you’ve been bitten by a tick in a Lyme-active area.

Does The Tick Only Transfer Lyme if Attached for 36+ Hours?

This is an old wives’ tale. What we know is that most attached ticks tend to be nymphs (the tiny stage) simply because we are able to see the adults (larger stage) more easily. With an attached tiny nymph, most known infections come from those ticks which have been attached for around 36 hours (a day and a half).

HOWEVER. This does NOT mean that a person is magically immune if they get the tick off in 24 hours. It’s not like the saliva isn’t flowing for the first 24 hours. A tick that’s attached for 24 hours already has quite a lot of blood in it.

ALSO – many people get bitten by adult ticks and don’t find it for various reasons. I was bitten by an adult tick on my back and only happened to notice it because my shirt rubbed against it, making it hurt. I easily could have not known it was there. An adult tick has a much larger stomach / mouth / etc. and much more saliva in it. So those of us unlucky enough to get bitten by an adult somewhere we don’t notice, it could easily spread the Lyme borreliosis much more quickly than 36 hours.

It’s also worth noting that bacteria multiply. That’s how they work. So doctors assume that if you only got one bacteria into you that your immune system would spot it and kill it. If you got thousands of bacterium into you, your immune system might get overwhelmed.

But what if your immune system wasn’t healthy for whatever reason? It could be that even a small amount of Lyme borreliosis could cause your body problems. So even a few hours of tick contact could get enough Lyme borreliosis into you to start an issue.

Single-Dose of Antibiotics / Doxycycline

It used to be recommended, if you found a tick instantly and the Lyme borreliosis were only starting to multiply inside you, that you could take one mega-dose of Doxycycline antibiotics and wipe out all of the Lyme borreliosis. This is no longer recommended by most physicians. It’s better to take the standard 10-day regimen to ensure all the bacteria are slain, while you wait for the tick test to come back.

Test Your Tick for Lyme Disease!

All of this discussion so far assumes that the tick DOES have Lyme Disease / Lyme borreliosis in it – but the only way to know for sure is to test it. There are many testing centers to do this for you. Send in the remnants of the tick, even if it’s in pieces. Within 2-3 days you’ll get a message back letting you know if the tick even had Lyme disease. You can test for other diseases, too, while you’re at it. If the tick did NOT have Lyme, you can breathe easy and know you’re set.

If the tick DID have Lyme, it’s now a question of how many of the actual Lyme borreliosis got from the tick digestive system into your blood system. If it was attached under 36 hours, it’s going to be a smaller volume of bacteria that got in. If it was attached longer, there is more chance of a transfer. An adult tick will transfer more than a tiny nymph. Different skin areas will have different blood flow. Your immune system might be robust and have instantly slain every single bacteria – or it might be weaker and be struggling.

Do Antibiotics Completely Wipe Out Every Lyme borreliosis Bacterium?

The way Lyme (and many diseases) work is that the bacterium start out ‘living’ where they entered the system – i.e. at the tick bite. That’s why you often (but not always!) see a rash near the tick bite area. That’s the body having trouble with those Lyme borreliosis bacterium.

Then, as the Lyme borreliosis multiply, they spread out and get into other body parts. The joints. The organs. The brain. Etc.

So if the tick bites you in your back, and the Lyme borreliosis are hanging out near that spot in your back, and you take antibiotics quickly, it could be that the antibiotics destroy every single little Lyme borreliosis bacteria that exists before they get any further.

But let’s keep in mind how antibiotics work.

The antibiotic – let’s say Doxycycline – is put in your mouth. It dissolves in your stomach, and then goes through your blood system. But do the particles of Doxycycline really go down EVERY SINGLE CAPPILARY? Does it really get into every single cell? Or is it reaching maybe 95% of your body and figuring it’ll be good enough?

Keep in mind some capillaries are so tiny that red blood cells have to ‘line up’ to get through them. As high a dose of Doxycycline they give you, there are still chances that some sections of your body will end up with no particles down a given route.

Then there’s the issue that some bacteria can manage to evade antibiotics by ‘hiding’ / disguising themselves so the antibiotic can’t see it. And then other bacteria have evolved to be resistant to antibiotics.

So do not necessarily think that once you get antibiotics – even for the recommended 20 days – that you are 100% absolutely guaranteed to be wholly free of the Lyme borreliosis bacteria. Always watch for symptoms.

Once Bitten by a Lyme Tick, Are You Immune to Lyme Going Forward?

Your white blood cells are helping out as best they can. So in addition to the antibiotics you will ALSO have your white blood cells building their knowledge to Lyme borreliosis. White blood cells have a memory system where they remember things they have fought off before. That’s how humans can build immunity to some illnesses.

A challenge with Lyme is that it’s not just one bacteria. There’s at least 18 different syb-types of Lyme. So while you might now become immune to type #1, that still leaves you vulnerable to types #2 to #18.

How Do You Know if you Have Lyme?

There’s no easy way to test for the presence of Lyme borreliosis bacteria inside you. Instead, what doctors test for is the ability of your white blood cells to know about Lyme. Your white blood cells don’t instantly build up this knowledge. It takes about six weeks before your body fully builds its knowledge about a new invader. So you would have to wait six weeks before doing a blood test to determine if your body has interacted with Lyme in the past.

Note that the test will have no idea WHEN you encountered Lyme borreliosis. It might have been ten years ago. But the test will be able to tell you that your white blood cells are sensitive to at least one of the Lyme varieties.

It could be that this invasion of Lyme was caught very early and every single bacteria was wiped out. It could also be that a few copies of Lyme bacteria managed to stay in your body and cause issues. The blood test can’t tell that. It only knows that at one point in time there was indeed Lyme borreliosis inside you.

If Lyme Gets Into You – Do Antibiotics “Cure” You?

So with everything we’ve covered, the question comes again: If a Lyme-positive tick bites you, and the Lyme borreliosis bacteria then get into your body, do antibiotics wholly keep you from “getting Lyme”?

Technically, the moment those bacteria are in you, you have Lyme in you. The question is how it impacts your body.

If you are able to wholly stamp it out quickly through a combination of white blood cells and antibiotics / Doxycycline, then the damage done to your body could be minimal. Your experience with Lyme could be short and uneventful.

If instead some Lyme borreliosis are able to survive for whatever reason, and nestle into somewhere vulnerable, then you could still have symptoms even years later.

That’s why it’s always good to know your Lyme exposure status – and to track all symptoms. It will help you be a good caretaker of your body. After all, we only get this one body to last our entire life.

1 Comment

  1. Good information, and helpful. It is good to get a test after taking the antibiotic and make sure the Lyme is totally gone. I was bitten, got ill, and had an even longer dose to eliminate that pesky bug! Yay antibiotics!

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