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VERIFY: Lyme disease symptoms can be mistaken for COVID-19

There are common symptoms and unique symptoms and it's important to get the diagnosis right.

With more people outside enjoying nature and possibly exposing themselves to ticks, health experts are warning of possible overlap between the symptoms of COVID-19 and Lyme Disease.


Can you get diagnosed with COVID-19 instead of Lyme disease and vice versa?


Yes, you could, as both have similar symptoms. Evidence and experts suggest patients should get tested for other conditions when presenting any of the symptoms. The experts that the VERIFY team contacted said getting the correct diagnosis in a timely manner is important as Lyme Disease can have serious effects if it's not caught early on.


A spokesperson with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained to the VERIFY team that Lyme disease shares some general “flu-like” symptoms with COVID-19 including "fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and headaches"

 “But," they added, "there are key symptoms of Lyme disease that help distinguish it from other illnesses, most commonly the erythema migrans rash (commonly known as a bull’s-eye rash) which occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of people with Lyme disease.” 

The CDC representative explained that other Lyme Disease symptoms include facial palsy, arthritis in large joints and irregular heartbeat. “Tick-born diseases are not likely to cause the type of respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19, such as cough, congestion, shortness of breath, or loss of taste or smell,” they wrote. 

According to Dr. John Aucott, Director of the John Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center, the overlap of Lyme Disease season with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could lead people to self-diagnose incorrectly. “We’re currently on tick season," he said, "which means that Lyme being also a seasonal disease is currently overlapping COVID-19. Testing is fundamental, especially when Lyme usually tests positive later than the incubation period for COVID-19.”

While some COVID-19 cases can be mild, it's important to get checked out if you think there's a chance it could be Lyme Disease instead. 

“It is important to have a proper clinical diagnosis especially if you live on the east coast where there’s more proliferation of these ticks. Look for the skin rash, which is visible evidence of Lyme disease. When presenting similar symptoms, fever, body ache, etc, look for the tick bite if you think you’ve been exposed to ticks," Aucott explained. 

When it comes to recommendations, the CDC and Dr. Aucott agreed that if you live in a Lyme-endemic area, the best thing is to avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, use an EPA-registered repellent when exposed to a tick habitat, and check yourself thoroughly for ticks when you get home and remove them quickly. 

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