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Lyme disease concerns are rising

Deer Tick

Alarm over the increasing number of cases of Lyme disease and treatment are heating up as we reach the depths of the summer months. Concerns have risen so high that Rep. Frank R. Wolf has urged the House Appropriations Committee to increase the Lyme disease budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by nearly $3.6 million, which would bring the new budget to $9 million.

Why this focus on Lyme disease? One is that this tick-borne illness is most active in the warmer months, when ticks are also more prevalent. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried by deer ticks. Deer ticks (black-legged ticks) spread the disease when they feed on the blood of animals and humans. The significant rise in outdoor activities by both adults and children is accompanied by an increase in exposure to ticks and Lyme disease.

Attention to Lyme disease has also been prompted by an antitrust investigation into the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal after concerned patients and families insisted that the IDSA’s treatment guidelines are too restrictive and deny patients the necessary care for the disease, which is typically long-term use of antibiotics. The investigation ended last year, after the IDSA promised to review its treatment guidelines and revise them if necessary.

On Thursday July 30, an invitation-only hearing was held regarding the lawsuit and the guidelines on treatment of Lyme disease. As the guidelines stood prior to the hearing, doctors are advised against prescribing the large amounts of antibiotics that have typically been given for the disease. The IDSA had been charged with developing treatment guidelines that were approved by individuals who had conflicts of interest with pharmaceutical and insurance companies. (The webcast of the hearing will be posted by August 4 on the IDSA Website.)

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If Lyme disease is diagnosed early and treated with an appropriate amount of antibiotics, many people recover completely. Some individuals, however, experience lingering or recurring symptoms, including fatigue and pain, for months and years after the infection has been eliminated.

The first sign of Lyme disease infection is usually a circular rash called erythema migrans. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected people get this rash within 3 to 30 days of a tick bite. The rash gradually expands and may be warm but not painful. Accompanying symptoms may include chills, headache, fatigue, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and joint and muscle aches.

Left untreated, Lyme disease can spread throughout the body and may cause severe headache, shooting pains, dizziness, joint pain, and heart palpitations. These symptoms may resolve without treatment. However, about 60 percent of untreated patients will develop severe joint swelling and pain, and a small percentage will also have problems with memory and concentration as well as neurological complaints such as numbness or tingling in the feet or hands and shooting pains.

The CDC reports that the areas of highest infestation of deer ticks are the mid-Atlantic, northeastern, and north central states, and that the largest number of Lyme disease cases are among people ages 5 to 9 and 50 to 59. Anyone who believes they have been bitten by a tick should watch closely for any reaction and see a doctor if any sign of a rash occurs.

SOURCES: Baltimore Sun
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Infectious Diseases Society of America