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The Dangers of
Lyme Disease

from The Lyme Disease Network

Lyme disease is called the "Great Imitator" because it can mimic many other diseases, which makes diagnosis difficult.

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Since its first recognition in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, Lyme disease has become the most frequently reported vector-borne disease in the United States. Here's a startling fact: 337,469 cases of Lyme disease have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control between 1980 and 2008 (21,342 cases in 2008 so far, as of 11/1/08). However, it is conservatively estimated that only one in ten cases of Lyme disease is actually reported to the CDC--so there may have been at least as many as 3.37 million cases of Lyme disease since 1980 and 213,420 cases in 2008.

Cases of Lyme disease have been reported in virtually every state, although three regions stand out: the northeast; the north-central states of Wisconsin and Minnesota; and the coastal counties of northern California. A study published by the World International Lyme Disease Emergency Rescue Network (wildernetwork.org) predicts a one-third increase in the number of Lyme disease cases per year in the United States.

Lyme disease is called the "Great Imitator" because it can mimic many other diseases, which makes diagnosis difficult. People can bounce from doctor to doctor, trying to find out what's wrong with them, and they may be misdiagosed. Thus, we should all be educated about this dangerous disease.

How is Lyme disease transmitted? Most commonly it's transmitted by a tick bite (which can be painless, so you don't even know you've been bit). The most common kind of ticks include Ixodes scapularis (Deer Tick), Amblyomma americanum (Lone Star Tick) and Ixodes pacificus. Ticks prefer to live in wooded areas, low growing grassland, seashores and yards. Depending on the location, anywhere from less than 1% to more than 90% of the ticks are infected.

The Deer tick has a two-year life cycle and must feed three times. In the larvae stage, it is tan, the size of a pin head and feeds on small animals like the mouse where it can pick up the spirochete. During the nymph stage the tick is the size of a poppy seed, beige or partially transparent and feeds on larger animals such as cats, dogs and humans. The adult ticks are black and/or reddish and feed on cattle, deer, dogs, and humans. The female Lone Star tick is grey with a white dot. April through October is considered the "tick season" even though Lyme disease is a year round problem. (Ticks are very active in the spring and early summer.)

Early Symptoms
Several days or weeks after a bite from an infected tick, a patient usually experiences "flu-like" symptoms such as aches and pains in their muscles and joints, low grade fever, and/or fatigue. A rash can appear several days after infection, or not at all. It can last a few hours or up to several weeks. The rash can be very small or very large (up to twelve inches across). A "bullseye" rash is the hallmark of Lyme. It is a round ring with central clearing. Unfortunately, this is not the only rash associated with Lyme. Various other rashes associated with the disease have been reported.

One bite can cause multiple rashes, and the rash can mimic such skin problems as hives, eczema, sunburn, poison ivy, flea bites, etc. The rash can itch or feel hot or may not be felt at all. The rash can disappear and return several weeks later. For those with dark skin, the rash will look like a bruise. If you notice a rash, take a picture of it. Some physicians require evidence of a rash before prescribing treatment.

Other Possible Symptoms
*Jaw - pain, difficulty chewing

*Bladder - frequent or painful urination, repeated "urinary tract infection"

*Lung - respiratory infection, cough, asthma, pneumonia

*Ears - pain, hearing loss, ringing, sensitivity to noise

*Eyes - pain due to inflammation, sensitivity to light, conjunctivitis, blurring or double vision

*Throat - sore throat, swollen glands, cough, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing

*Neurological - headaches, facial paralysis, seizures, meningitis, stiff neck, burning, tingling, or prickling sensations, loss of reflexes, loss of coordination, MS-like syndrome

*Stomach - pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, anorexia

*Heart - weakness, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, myocarditis, pericarditis, palpitations, heart block, enlarged heart, fainting, inflammation of muscle or membrane, shortness of breath, chest pain

*Joint - arthralgias or arthritis, muscle inflammation/pain

*Other Organs - liver infection, elevated liver enzymes, enlarged spleen, swollen testicles, irregular or ceased menses

*Neuropsychiatric - mood swings, irritability, poor concentration, cognitive loss, memory loss, loss of appetite, mental deterioration, depression, disorientation, sleep disturbance

*Pregnancy - miscarriage, premature birth, birth defects, stillbirth

*Skin - single or multiple rash, hives

Note: The above is a list of possible symptoms. They can occur in any combination. You may have one or several symptoms but not everyone will experience every symptom. Lyme affects each host in a different way. Having one or many of these symptoms does not indicate that you have Lyme disease. Diagnosis for Lyme is a clinical one and must be made by a physician experienced in recognizing it.

Testing for Lyme Disease
Testing is generally done through a blood test. Unfortunately, the tests are not accurate at present. Urine tests and tests of spinal fluid are not reliable either. False positives and false negatives do occur. Medication taken for other ailments and pre-existing conditions can interfere with the tests.

Lyme Disease is treatable. Antibiotics are recommended for a minimum of 4-6 weeks, but more chronic cases may require a longer treatment. Treatment is either oral or intravenous. Those diagnosed in later stages of the disease may require I.V. treatment. Some physicians are combining more than one drug for more difficult cases. There is a vaccine for humans on the market, but much more study needs to be done by the FDA on its effectiveness and safety.

Treatment for Lyme Disease is recommended if:
*You are bitten by a tick that tests positive for spirochetes
*You are bitten by a tick and you have symptoms
*You are bitten by a tick and are pregnant
*You are bitten by a tick and live in an endemic area

Lyme Disease is a serious problem. The best defense against it is education. Know your facts. For more information visit the Lyme Disease Network at www.lymenet.org.

Reprinted with permission from the Lyme Disease Network, a nonprofit organization based in New Jersey.

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