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Lyme Disease is on the Rise July 24, 2014

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 12:45 PM
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In my last post I talked about making wine drinking habits more environmentally-friendly. On a somewhat related note, last night I watched the documentary, “Somm”, about a bunch of guys preparing for the Master Sommelier test. The movie has nothing to do with the environment but I found it fascinating. If you’re into wine, I highly recommend the film. It is amazing the breadth and depth of knowledge they need to have in order to pass.

But now on to the real purpose of today’s blog…

Let’s talk about Lyme disease, a subject possibly near, yet not so dear, to my heart. Two weeks ago I went on a camping/backpacking trip in north-central Pennsylvania. When I got home I pulled three deer ticks and one dog tick off my legs. How nice! This past Sunday I started to feel extremely fatigued and sore. The next day I had a bad fever, chills and achy joints. If this was January I might chock it up to the flu, but I had a flu shot this year and I haven’t had any coughing, runny nose or anything like that. It all seemed so strange. Could it be Lyme disease, I wondered?

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria found in some deer ticks, also known as blacklegged ticks. Other kinds of ticks like dog ticks cannot transmit Lyme disease. Deer ticks are tiny, especially the nymphs (the life stage when they spread the disease most frequently), which are the size of a poppy seed, so finding them on your body, especially if you are particularly freckled, can be difficult. Approximately three percent of tick bites result in Lyme disease. The tick must remain attached to you for at least 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria to your blood stream. So if you have been outside lately, it pays to check for ticks and remove them as soon as possible.

Common symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a bull’s eye shaped skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, the disease can cause joint pain and arthritis that recurs through the years.

According to the PA Department of Health, there were 5,758 recorded cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania in 2013, which is an all-time-high for the state. Pennsylvania is also one of the top states in the country for Lyme disease cases. One reason for these statistics is the state’s high number of white-tailed deer, particularly in suburban areas. Deer ticks spend part of their life on white-footed mice, then graduate to living on much larger mammals, preferably deer, but a passing human can work for the tick in a pinch. If you have mice and deer in the area, chances are good that infected deer ticks live there too. Watch out!

When I stopped by my doctor’s office to have blood drawn for the Lyme disease test, she said that in years past she would only diagnose one person each year with the disease, but that she’s already had four cases this year. Will I be the fifth? I hope not, but then again knowing what ails you is better than being in the dark. If this isn’t Lyme disease what the heck is it?! Wish me luck.

And next time you’re out enjoying a hike, don’t wear shorts like silly, old me. Sure it was hot out, but from now on I’ll take sweating over possibly getting more tick bites. And while I’m not a huge fan of bug spray, especially the pyrethrin that works so well at keeping ticks away, I may be more open to its use from now on. Better a little chemical exposure than having to take 30 days of extremely strong antibiotics that can cause severe allergic reactions to sunlight (this happened to my boss a few years ago – it looked like she has flesh-eating bacteria on her skin!).

Want more information on Lyme disease? The CDC has a very informative page at http://www.cdc.gov/lyme.

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