Coronavirus and Lyme Disease Share Similar Symptoms – Here's How to Tell the Difference

Lizzy Buczak
July 22, 2020 - 12:29 pm

    As cases surge across the U.S., it’s easy to confuse coronavirus symptoms with those of the common cold, allergies, or even Lyme disease.

    Dr. Daniel Cameron, a Lyme disease specialist in private practice in Mount Kisco, New York, told TODAY that “Lyme disease is just as common this year as it was last year or the year before.”

    The symptoms of Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria or a tick bite, overlaps with the symptoms present in someone who tests positive in COVID-19.

    This includes fever, chills, muscle aches, and fatigue.

    In fact, Lyme disease has a reputation for imitating other conditions, which may make it harder to diagnose.

    “It triggers cytokines, the inflammatory process, and by triggering the whole natural immune system, it will mimic some other infections that affect the immune system,” Cameron said. When the immune system is working hard to clear the infection, it may cause symptoms very similar to COVID-19.

    Edward Jones-Lopez, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, notes that it’s crucial to figure out if someone has Lyme or COVID-19 in order to treat them properly and administer the correct medication.

    “The important thing about Lyme is that if you diagnose it and treat it early on you avoid the serious complications from the disease,” he explained.

    Some things to consider are location and season.

    “The ticks that transmit Lyme, they’re expanding more rapidly through the country, but historically they have been restricted to very particular areas of the country,” Jones-Lopez said. So, if you’ve traveled to parts of the midwest including Illinois and Minnesota, it could be an indicator that it is Lyme disease.

    Lyme also occurs often in warm summer months.

    Another key difference is a bullseye rash that will often manifest in the exact spot where a tick bite occurs, though, not everyone will get a rash.

    “That initial rash is very characteristic and is an enormous opportunity to differentiate the two diseases,” Jones-Lopez said.

    Jones-Lopez added that another way to tell is by the lungs. While COVID-19 takes a toll on the lungs, Lyme disease doesn’t.

    The best course of action if you are exhibiting symptoms is to test.

    COVID-19 viral tests check samples from your respiratory system with a swab from the inside of your nose, according to the CDC.

    Testing for Lyme includes measuring antibodies, which may take longer to receive results.

    Despite the similarities in symptoms, Jonez-Lopez says an experienced doctor will be able to distinguish them.

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