Pop star in the ‘Lyme’ light
What you need to know about this tick-borne illness.
Beth Stambaugh Published: January 23, 2020
After fans expressed concern over Justin Bieber’s ashen appearance, even speculating he was on drugs, the pop star posted that he was “battling Lyme disease and winning.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by infected ticks, most commonly the “deer tick,” found in wooded and grassy areas. It cannot be passed from person to person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 30,000 Americans contract it each year.
“Most cases are not serious, but can be if not diagnosed and treated early,” said Mobeen Rathore, MD, an infectious disease specialist. The only way to confirm a true diagnosis is through blood work.
Early diagnosis is important because symptoms get worse the longer it goes untreated. Early symptoms include headaches and neck stiffness. The most obvious sign is a red bulls-eye shaped rash, which doesn’t always appear. Later symptoms may include hearing loss, paralysis of the face, heart complications, nausea and arthritis. Not getting treatment in the first six weeks may lead to lifelong complications.
Bieber’s Lyme disease went undiagnosed for much of last year, according to news reports. “One of the problems in diagnosing the disease is that many of the symptoms are non-specific, and can easily be attributed to other conditions,” Dr. Rathore said.
Lyme disease is found mostly in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States.
“It’s extremely rare in Florida. If someone has Lyme disease in our state, it is likely they contracted it elsewhere,” said Dr. Rathore.
Although you’re unlikely to get Lyme disease in Florida, it’s still a good idea to protect yourself.
Tips to avoid contracting Lyme disease
- Don’t veer off the trail. Ticks are most likely to hide out in tall grass or woods.
- Wear closed shoes or boots, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. Tuck pant legs into shoes or boots to prevent ticks from crawling up legs.
- Wear light-colored clothing so it’s easier to spot ticks.
- Use an insect repellent.
- Shower and wash your hair after being outside to remove ticks before they attach.
- Check yourself for ticks. An infected tick must be attached for at least 1–2 days to pass the bacteria. The most common places include the armpits, groin or scalp.
As for the Biebs, he says he is getting the right treatment, including intravenous antibiotics. “I’ll be back and better than ever,” he told his 124 million Instagram followers.