During the COVID-19 pandemic, any flu-like symptoms can put us on high alert as we may think we’ve come down with this virus. However, there is a lesser-known illness that causes symptoms similar to COVID-19: Lyme disease.
In the early stages, it may be hard to tell the two apart. However, some signs will help you understand which one may be making you feel sick.
Causes of COVID-19 and Lyme disease
COVID-19 is a disease that comes from a specific type of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. You can mainly contract COVID-19 from being around an infected individual for a period of time.
Lyme disease happens when a black-legged tick (also called a deer tick) that’s carrying a certain type of bacteria bites you. Ticks that carry Lyme disease live mostly in the northeastern region of the United States. They hide in tall grasses, bushes and other plants. Pets can bring ticks into your house too.
You’ll want to take care to protect yourself from ticks that carry Lyme disease, especially if you live in these areas:
- Washington, D.C.
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
Shared symptoms of Lyme disease and COVID-19
Both COVID-19 and Lyme disease make your immune system release different types of proteins and other substances. They tell your body to fight germs that shouldn’t be there and help send special white blood cells to the infection.
This process is what causes the general flu-like symptoms that are common in both COVID-19 and Lyme disease. People with a wide variety of health conditions experience these “nonspecific” symptoms.
The symptoms that COVID-19 and Lyme disease have in common include:
- Body aches
- General feeling of discomfort, as if you’re getting a cold
Symptoms to look for to tell Lyme disease and COVID-19 apart
Having these symptoms could mean you have any number of illnesses. That’s why it’s important to look for other symptoms to rule out one or both.
Here are the symptoms that can help you tell these two illnesses apart.
Symptoms of COVID-19:
- Congestion or runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
Symptoms of Lyme disease:
- Erythema migrans (EM) rash, which looks red at the site of the bite, then expands, often looking like a bullseye
- Facial palsy, meaning one or both sides of your face droop
- Neck stiffness
- Shooting pains, tingling or numbness in your feet or hands
- Swelling in your knees or other large joints
Many people get an EM rash when they have Lyme disease. The rash usually appears up to 30 days after the tick bite. While it gets bigger, it usually isn’t itchy or painful, but it might feel warm. Not everyone with Lyme disease gets a rash, so look for the other symptoms, too.
No matter what, seek medical care
If you think you may have either of these diseases, it’s time to call your primary care provider.
If you have COVID-19, isolate yourself from others so you don’t spread the disease. Your primary care provider will be able to walk you through a care plan based on your symptoms.
If you have Lyme disease, getting treatment as early as possible is very important. If you don’t, it can do serious, permanent damage to your body. Your primary care provider will know the next steps to take in your care.
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