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Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a type of bacteria called a spirochaete. Humans and animals are infected with the bacteria through tick bites on the skin. Infected Ixodes ticks are often found on deer. The disease is common in parts of the United States but may also exist throughout much of the world. In New Zealand, cases have only been reported in people that have recently travelled from an endemic area.

Several things can happen after being bitten by an infected tick.

- The body's defence mechanisms can overwhelm and eliminate the infecting bacteria.
- The bacteria can remain localised at the site of the bite and cause a localised skin infection.
- The bacteria may disseminate via the blood and lymphatic system to other organs and cause a multisystem inflammatory disease.

Although Lyme disease can affect any part of the body, it appears to most often affect the skin, heart, central nervous system, joints and eyes. The disease can basically be divided into 3 stages according to the extent of infection. In individual patients there is no rigid cut-off between each stage.

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