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Small steps help prevent onslaught of Lyme disease
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georgia
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 28, 2006 1:19 am    Post subject: Small steps help prevent onslaught of Lyme disease Reply with quote

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Small steps help prevent onslaught of Lyme disease

06/23/06
by bob allen

Debbie Brown, 42, started noticing something was wrong about six
years
ago.

"I started feeling very tired, and I had flu-like symptoms and
once a
month or so I'd get a low-grade fever," she said. "I would literally
wake up
in the morning feeling like I was 80 years old, but I just kept pushing
myself through it."

Until then, Brown, said she had been active in sports and ran
five
miles a day.

But her condition continued to deteriorate in mysterious ways.
Her
knees started swelling, then her leg.

Her doctor told her it was probably from running on hard surfaces
so
she laid off running.

But the swelling continued until she finally had to have the
fluid
drained from her knee, which was the size of a grapefruit.

After that, she felt good for a few weeks until the maladies
worsened.
Her right knee swelled and pretty soon she was on crutches. Then her
elbow
swelled and her jaw started to lock up.

After several months of suffering, her doctor ran a blood test
and
told Brown she had Lyme disease.

She had blamed her symptoms on everything from arthritis to
chronic
fatigue syndrome. When the diagnosis of Lyme disease finally came, it
was
something of a relief.

"They put me on heavy antibiotics for several weeks, and it was
like a
fog was lifted. I felt human again," said Brown, who nearly six years
later
remains symptom-free. "But I wouldn't wish that on anybody."

Welcome to the world of Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating
tick-borne bacterial disease whose high season is right now, when all
the
insects and blood-sucking critters rise up and do their dirty work.

According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental
Hygiene,
there were 1,235 cases of Lyme disease reported in Maryland in 2005, up
39
percent from the previous year.

Health officials say that number is probably low because many
cases of
the disease simply go undiagnosed.

Gary Thompson, supervisor of the Office of Communicable Diseases
of
the Baltimore County Department of Health, said that doesn't mean Lyme
disease is on the rise.

It just means that the public is more aware that it is a health
hazard, and citizens are seeking medical treatment when they suspect
they've
contracted it.

"There's a universal awareness that being bitten by ticks should
be
avoided," Thompson said. "The higher numbers don't mean it's more of a
problem. It just means there is more surveillance."

Dr. Charles Haile, an infectious disease specialist affiliated
with
both St. Joseph Medical Center and Greater Baltimore Medical Center,
said
he's treated hundreds of cases of Lyme disease in recent years and
three or
four cases so far this year.

Haile doesn't think the disease is any more prevalent than it was
a
year or two ago. He said he has seen a heightened public awareness
about
Lyme disease and about the importance of protecting oneself against
tick
bites or exposure to ticks during the warmer months.

Even so, he said, Lyme is often tricky to recognize and diagnose
because its flu-like symptoms frequently match those of other
disorders.

Often, a telltale symptom is a circular "bull's eye" rash that
appears
around the tick bite three to 30 days after the victim is bitten. But
about
30 percent of the time, no rash appears.

Also, the deer tick - also called the black-legged tick and a
frequent
carrier of the disease - is relatively tiny. Unlike the larger and more
common mule tick, a deer tick is often hard to spot when it has
attached
itself to you.

"The bugaboo is that people often don't see the tick bite or they
confuse it with an insect bit or a spider bite," Haile said.

"The tick that gives you Lyme disease is often the one that you
don't
even see," Gary Thompson added.

Haile said that if Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated early
with
antibiotics, "almost all patients do well."

But in a few cases, people, for unknown reasons, will suffer from
what
is called Post-Lyme syndrome, "where people continue to be ill with
joint
pains after the Lyme is cured."

Cases of Lyme disease that go undiagnosed for the long-term can
become
more difficult to treat and can result in more severe disorders,
including
heart palpitations or murmurs, blindness, mood swings, violent
outbursts and
hair loss.

Helga Weshke, who works for the Baltimore County Department of
Economic Development, was one of the lucky ones.

When her 5-year-old son, Ian, contracted Lyme disease earlier
this
spring, he was diagnosed early and a several-week regimen of
antibiotics
knocked it out.

Weshke said she first realized something was wrong when Ian began
having headaches and occasional bouts of nausea and fever. Then he
developed
a red rash around his navel.

"It didn't hurt; it didn't itch, and it didn't swell," she said.
"It
just got red. Then it gradually expanded to this big red blotch that
was
eight inches in diameter. It was pretty scary."

Thompson said that being bitten by a deer tick doesn't
necessarily
mean a person has been infected.

For one thing, the tick must be attached to you for at least 36
hours
before it can infect you.

"And there are also a lot of other variables," he said.

Deer ticks, though nearly invisible, are as ubiquitous in
Maryland as
the deer who often carry them, so the prospect of reducing the tick
population is just about zero.

The best protection, Thompson said, is prevention.

"Keep your lawn mowed" because the ticks like tall grass, "and
keep a
tick collar on your pet," he said. "Avoid exposing yourself to the
ticks.
That is the biggest thing."

E-mail Bob Allen at Bob Allen@patuxent.com

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