Ways & How

How to Test for Lyme Disease

How to Test for Lyme Disease

Lyme disease, also called Lyme borreliosis, occurs due to the emergence of three kinds of bacteria, such as Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, Borrelia garinii, and Borrelia afzelii. This infectious disease is difficult to detect, because its indications and symptoms are very similar to those of many other common human diseases. If you think you have Lyme disease, you can choose from several tests to determine whether you have it. Before recommending a test, your doctor would usually do a general exam and consider your medical history. The term “Lyme” originated from an American town inConnecticutnamed Lyme. In 1975, doctors reported a number of tick-borne Lyme cases. They discovered that the disease can be transmitted to anyone through the bite of an infected tick. If you contract Lyme disease, you will likely experience a severe fever, extreme fatigue, depression, headache and skin rashes. To find out whether you have Lyme disease, you can take any of the tests listed below.

  1. Antibody tests. The three types of antibody tests used in diagnosing Lyme disease are enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or ELISA, indirect fluorescent antibody or IFA, and western blot test. After you are infected, it can take two months before the antibodies are detectable in a blood test. In most cases, detecting antibodies on the infected bacteria cannot even indicate when you were infected. Once the antibodies form, they can continue to settle in your system for years.

    ELISA and IFA tests. These tests have proven very sensitive in detecting the antibodies present in the infection. Rather than doing the test yourself, it is much safer to bring your blood sample into a laboratory for an ELISA or IFA test. According to the Center for Disease Control, the test will do the linking of Lyme infection antigen to a particular enzyme. Once the antibody is detected, the blood solution will change color.

    Western blot test. This test can detect Lyme infection antibodies and confirm the results of an ELISA or IFA test. Doctors typically use the western blot test to identify chronic Lyme infection.

  2. Ideally, antibody testing should be done using a two-part process: an ELISA or IFA test first, followed by the western blot test. Although the ELISA test is said to be more accurate than the IFA test, the latter test may be used if the former is not available in the laboratory.

  3. Other blood tests. If the result of the ELISA or IFA exam is negative, and your blood sample was actually drawn between thefirst and second week after you were bitten, you should repeat the test three months after you received the negative result. Initial tests often yield negative results, because the antibodies may not have developed at that time. The results of subsequent tests often differ from those of the initial tests.

  4. Polymerase chain reaction exam. PCR testing, which tests the bacterial DNA or genetic material aspect is used when the infection persists despite antibiotic treatment. Unlike the other tests, the PCR is not commonly used, because it requires expensive equipment, and the person administering it must possess certain technical skills. Moreover, there are no widely accepted standards for PCR testing.

  5. Skin culture. This test focuses on a tissue sample to detect the bacteria thought to be the cause of Lyme disease. It may take a little longer to get the result of this test. For this reason, antibody testing is used more often than skin culture testing.

Knowing the options for Lyme disease testing will enable you to treat the disease as early as possible. Left untreated, the disease can develop into more serious conditions, such as heart rhythm disease, joint problems, neuropathy and illnesses of the nervous system.


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