Upswing of Lyme Disease cases reported in area
The region is experiencing another surge in Lyme disease cases. Morgan County Health Department officials were concerned that they were going to beat last year’s total number of cases.
Morgan County Health Department nurse Angel Bloom said they had 12 cases of Lyme disease reported since January. Six of those cases had been in the last week.
In 2009, Morgan County had 16 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease, according to state disease surveillance statistics. Berkeley County had 96 cases of Lyme disease last year and Jefferson County had 16 cases.
As in last year’s cases, most people in Morgan County with Lyme disease hadn’t found ticks on themselves, Bloom said.
Swelling, aching joints, headaches and fevers seemed to be the top
complaints of those with the illness. If people were experiencing these symptoms for more than 48 hours, they needed to see a physician, she said.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bite of the black-legged tick, commonly known as the deer tick, transmits the disease to humans and pets. Deer ticks are carried by deer, rodents and other mammals.
Double the cases
Area physician Dr. Matthew Hahn said for the past few weeks he has seen two to three patients a day that have Lyme disease. It’s double the amount of cases he was finding last year at this time, Hahn said. Lyme disease is now being seen year-round.
Hahn explained that
the characteristic rash associated with Lyme disease is usually at least four to six inches in size and is round or oval and very red. He has seen the rash as large as a foot long. No other disease presents with a rash that large, he said.
Sometimes part of the rash clears in a bull’s eye pattern, he said. About 20% of patients with the illness don’t get the rash.
Blood tests for Lyme disease aren’t reliable, Hahn noted.
“The diagnosis and the decision to treat for Lyme disease have to be made on a clinical presentation,” he said.
Hahn urged people to check themselves and their pets for ticks and to know what the Lyme disease rash looks like.
He also recommended that if people had an unexplained fever, headache or joint pain over a few days, that they should be evaluated by a doctor.
If caught in the early stages, Lyme disease is easy to treat and the antibiotics used are very reliable, Hahn said. Two to three week courses of Ampicillin or Doxycycline are generally prescribed for Lyme disease.
The onset of Lyme disease can occur within three days to 30 days after a tick bite. It is typically around 21 days, Hahn said.
If untreated, Lyme disease can progress into conditions such as arthritis, joint swelling, meningitis, encephalitis and second or third degree heart block. It can be fatal in rare cases.
Surge since May
Washington County Health Department spokesperson Rod MacRae said that 50 cases of possible Lyme disease have been reported in the county since May. They had 87 cases of the disease in 2009.
The surge in cases and hearing that a doctor in the western part of the county was seeing as many as two to three cases a day prompted the Health Department to issue a press release, MacRae said.
Their advisory reminds residents that spring and summer are the seasons where the chance of getting a tick-borne illness is the greatest.
It recommended full-body checks, use of tick repellents and wearing light-colored clothing when outdoors so crawling ticks are easily visible.
Deer ticks very small
MacRae said people needed to be aware that the deer ticks that generally cause Lyme disease are very small, a pinhead size, and aren’t like the standard dog ticks. The ticks could easily be missed. He advised full-body checks as often as possible if one has been wandering outdoors.
While it’s the season where more cases of the disease are found, there is still a risk for exposure to Lyme disease later in the summer or year, MacRae said.
Safe tick removal
If ticks attach to your skin, remove them using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly near the skin and pull it out slowly and steadily. Don’t crush or puncture the tick’s body since its fluids may carry infection. Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.