What is Borrelia?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2019
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Borrelia is a special kind of bacteria that is called a spirochete because of its spiral shape. Borrelia burgdoferi and Borrelia afzelii are both particularly well known because when these bacteria are transferred to human beings, often through tick bite, they result in the illness, Lyme disease. Lyme disease infections aren’t passed from human to human and typically only occur if a human receives a tick bite from a tick that carries the bacteria. Borrelia can be a term used synonymously with Lyme disease, which is also called Lyme Borreliosis.

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease create a number of early symptoms. One of the most common is a bull's eye or single red bump rash where the bite occurred. People may not even know they received a bite unless this rash occurs. Borrelia effectively works against several major systems in the body once the bite has occurred, crossing into the bloodstream so that rash may appear elsewhere. It also tends to result in joint and muscle pain, headaches, symptoms of weakness, and/or flu-like feelings.


As borrelia takes hold in the body, it affects more, and can cause major arthritis or paralysis of the face. Alternately, it can migrate to the heart, spinal cord, or brain resulting in potential severe damage, and symptoms of unbalanced mood, or other signs of impaired spine and heart function. It’s desirable to not allow Lyme disease to progress to this point because some damage may not be reversible.

Since borrelia is bacterial, principal treatment of Lyme disease is with antibiotic medications. Some of the most common ones will help effectively kill these bacteria and keep it from permanently damaging the body. Antibiotics most often used include ceftriaxone, amoxicillin, doxycycline, and erythromycin.

Dose may vary based on age and size of patient. Most people will take at least two weeks worth of doses. Physicians generally start antibiotics if a person has identified being bitten by Lyme tick or if a bull's eye rash and other symptoms emerge.

It is better to avoid Lyme disease infection, but this may be difficult in some parts of the world where ticks bearing these bacteria proliferate. They are especially common on both coasts of the US and in Northern Europe, particularly in places where deer are common, since bacteria-laden ticks may live on them. If a person has a tick bite and has been in a location where these ticks have been noted, doctor's guidance should be sought. A tick that is still attached can be removed and laboratory tested for presence of borrelia. People planning to camp or recreate in areas where infected ticks may live can also help avoid tick bites by wearing light clothing that covers the body, close-toed shoes, and insect repellant.



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