Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lyme disease in Ky. probably more common than reported

Nearly anyone who has spent considerable time in the woods this summer has later discovered they carried a visitor back with them — one the size of a freckle who latches on for dear life. Ticks are not uncommon in Kentucky, though Lyme disease, which is spread through the bite of a black-legged deer tick, is not commonly seen in the state.

But those numbers are likely under-reported, Keiara Carr reports for The Courier-Journal, in part because "Current medical guidelines say the disease is so rare in Kentucky that doctors should look for alternative causes for symptoms that might suggest Lyme disease."

Only five cases were reported in Kentucky in each of the past two years and there was just one case in 2009. But it's likely cases went under-reported because doctors don't give the blood test that diagnoses Lyme. They just don't feel it's necessary given the rarity of the disease in the area, Carr reports.

But Mike Gatton of Louisville knows all too well that it's possible. He got bitten by a tick while mowing his lawn two years ago. He developed a rash on his leg but when he went to the doctor he was tested for a variety of diseases, including West Nile, multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig disease, but not Lyme. "I was feeling more and more fatigued. I was having severe headaches. I was really concerned," he said.

When he got another tick bite a year ago and had the same reaction he had to the first bite, he put the tick in a vial and brought it to his doctor, who still dismissed the possibility of Lyme. He is now being treated with antibiotics he takes intravenously.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache and fatigue. Sometimes, a rash that looks like a bull's eye around the tick bite can develop. Usually, people get better with large doses of antibiotics. If left untreated, "the infection can be painful and debilitating, causing arthritis or spreading to the heart and nervous system," Carr reports.

Guidelines by the Infectious Disease Society of America "to help doctors decide if a patient is eligible for treatment say the patient should have received the tick bite in an 'endemic area," Carr reports, which makes sense according to Paul Mead, a consulting physician for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "For example, a physician in Africa evaluating a child for fever should have malaria at the top of his list; a physician in Kentucky should not," he said. (Read more)

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