Earlier this month, Justin Bieber addressed comments about his appearance. The singer informed his 124 million Instagram followers that the reason for the blemishes on his skin and his wan appearance was Lyme disease.
He told his followers that the disease had affected his, “skin, brain function, energy, and overall health.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is carried by some species of ticks. If someone is bitten by the insect, they can become infected.
Dr Kirthi Raju, Consultant Rheumatologist at Aster Jubilee Medical Centre, Bur Dubai, says that symptoms of early Lyme disease usually begin one to two weeks after a tick bite.
Musculoskeletal symptoms can occur with early or late Lyme disease and include joint and muscle aches or joint swelling.
“They tend to develop a circular rash in the area where they’ve been bitten by the insect. Associated symptoms are similar to a non-specific viral illnesses and often include fatigue, malaise, fever, chills, myalgia and headache.”
Early diagnosis is crucial because an untreated infection can result in advanced disease involving the heart, nervous system or joints.
If not identified and treated, Lyme disease can progress to a late stage months to years after the initial tick bite. This could lead to considerable pain and distress from chronic arthritis
Lyme disease is common in some parts of the UK and North America and one of the issues is that many people tend to downplay is the significant impact it can have on individuals’ health and wellbeing.
Bieber’s wife, Hailey, took to Twitter to highlight the lack of awareness and of understanding surrounding the infection. She said that the Lyme disease can affect people for years and Dr Raju confirms that the disease can be chronic.
Dr Raju says that the disease is not common here in the UAE and that people’s travel habits are the initial flag for a potential diagnosis.
“Serologic testing can be helpful to establish the diagnosis of Lyme disease in patients who have travelled to areas where the disease is endemic,” she says.
Dr Raju says that different symptoms can also be indicative of the stage of the disease. “Musculoskeletal symptoms can occur with early or late Lyme disease and include joint and muscle aches or joint swelling,” she says.
“Arthritis is usually a manifestation of late Lyme disease, and occurs in up to 60 per cent of untreated patients. Arthritis tends to present approximately six months after infection with joint pain, swelling and other features of inflammation. Chronic arthritis primarily involves the knees and hips.
“Lyme disease can also affect other organs. Sometimes it can affect the heart and cause a slowing of the heart rate. It can also affect the nerves in the extremities [hands or feet] or the head.
“Headaches can also be a secondary symptom as a result of the inflammation,” says Dr Raju.
“Antibiotics are the primary treatment for Lyme disease. The choice and duration will depend on the stage and the extent of the disease. When it involves major symptoms, intravenous antibiotics may be required.
“Non-specific symptoms such as fatigue and muscular pains and joint aches may persist despite treatment. This is referred to as post–Lyme disease syndrome and can cause chronic health issues for patients.”
The easiest way to protect yourself from Lyme disease is to take precautions if you’re visiting a region where the infection is endemic.
By simply wearing appropriate clothing and insect repellent, you can significantly reduce the risk of infection.
In Bieber’s case, the Canadian will be revealing more insights into his Lyme disease affliction in an upcoming documentary. His fame means that details of the illness are likely to reach new audiences, raising awareness of what can be a debilitating and chronic disease in severe cases.