Coronavirus update: Lyme disease symptoms could be mistaken for COVID-19 – signs to spot

Coronavirus symptoms are listed by the NHS as a new, persistent cough, a fever, and a loss of sense of taste and smell. The World Health Organization’s list is even longer, with aches and pain, diarrhoea, headaches and a rash included.


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But experts have now warned many of these coronavirus symptoms are similar to Lyme disease – a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks – and the two conditions could be easily confused.

Writing for The Conversation, Jory Brinkerhoff, associate professor of biology at the University of Richmond, said: “Lyme disease shares a number of symptoms with COVID-19, including fever, ashiness and chills.

“Anyone who mistakes Lyme disease for COVID-19 could unknowingly delay necessary medical treatment, and that can lead to severe, potentially debilitating symptoms.”

One of the most distinguishing signs of Lyme disease is a circular red skin rash, often described as a bullseye.

Most rashes appear within the first four weeks.

Dr Brinkerhoff said: “Symptoms of Lyme disease – fever, head and body aches and fatigue – are less distinctive and can be easily confused with other illnesses, including COVID-19.

“This can make it more difficult to diagnose a patient who did not notice a rash or was unaware that they ever had a tick bite. As a result, Lyme disease cases can be misdiagnosed.”

If Lyme disease is identified quickly it can be easily treated with antibiotics.

But delays to treatment can lead to more severe and persistent symptoms, warns Dr Brinkerhoff.

He explained: “If Lyme disease goes untreated, neurological and cognitive problems and potentially fatal heart problems can develop, and painful arthritis that is much more difficult to treat can set in.”

While some symptoms of Lyme disease and coronavirus are similar, there a number of distinctive signs to help tell the two conditions apart.

Difficulty breathing and a sore throat have been linked to COVID-19, but are very unusual in Lyme disease.


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Headaches tend to be mild with coronavirus but are severe with Lyme disease.

People with Lyme disease may also experience a stiff neck, sharp spotting pains, light sensitive, sound sensitivity, pins and needles and nausea.

Dr Brinkerhoff added: “Awareness is a key component of preventing and treating tick-borne disease.

“People should be aware of the activities that could expose them to ticks, and physicians should consider the possibility of tick-borne disease, especially given the potential overlap in symptoms with COVID-19.”

Another condition that’s been likened to coronavirus is hay fever.

Loss of smell, headaches, a blocked nose and generally feeling unwell are some of the symptoms of hay fever that can also be present in coronavirus.

But one of the main differences between hay fever and coronavirus is a fever – a fever is one of the main symptoms of coronavirus, but contrary to its name, hay fever doesn’t cause a fever.

The NHS says if you experience a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste to use the 111 online coronavirus service. 

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