Pennsylvania leads country in Lyme disease cases

 Excerpted from  the Chicago Tribune  ( Posted: 05/30/2011 ) 

Its culprit is hard to see, but it is demanding your attention.

Lyme disease, which according to most recent figures infected close to 30,000 Americans in 2009, is approaching its peak season — and Pennsylvania leads the country in the number of reported cases.

Transmitted by the bite of a deer tick, Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases are draining millions of dollars from the health care system and wreaking havoc on the lives of thousands — many of whom struggle for years before they are correctly diagnosed.

“We have seen an expansion in the parts of the state that are impacted by Lyme disease,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, acting physician general with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “The tick is clearly moving away from coastal areas in the Northeast into the interior.”

Lyme disease in the state has grown 78 percent in the past decade, from 2,781 cases to 4,950 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Pennsylvania, areas that were spared in the past are becoming havens for the infection. Lehigh, Northampton and Monroe counties have all experienced an increase in cases over the past five years.

There are several reasons for the spike. Some attribute it to an increase in the white-tail deer population and the movement of more people to rural areas. Rodents, particularly white-footed mice, play a role in the spread of the bacteria. Changes in the way the information has been collected over the years have also affected the numbers, but Ostroff says the increase is real.

Bethlehem resident Nancy Nicolaou says she was bitten by a tick while doing yard work at a family property in Ocean Gate, N.J. She developed a rash, but it did not resemble the traditional oval-shaped bull’s-eye — the usual indicator of Lyme infection. She tested negative for the bacteria multiple times before drawing a positive. Nicolaou was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and treated for several years. The incorrect diagnosis, she says, left her disabled, unable to work and with mounting health-care bills.

By then she had developed bladder problems, numbness in one side of her body and encephalitis.

“It felt like a bomb went off in my body,” Nicolaou said.

Notorious in medical circles as a great imitator, Lyme disease is particularly difficult to identify because its symptoms mirror other conditions like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia. Its common tests are not completely reliable. Doctors must often depend on their clinical suspicions to identify the disease. Some opt to begin treating patients with antibiotics before the Lyme test comes back positive. Patients who are treated proactively may never test positive for Lyme disease.

Those who are not diagnosed early can develop a constellation of problems that range from rashes and fatigue to migratory joint pain, cardiac disorders, changes in personality and neurological ailments such as meningitis, temporary paralysis of one side of the face, tingling and numbness.

When caught early, the disease is usually cured with antibiotics, but it can be devastating for those who are left untreated for a long time.

For the complete article:,0,7042341.story

~ by Rob on June 1, 2011.

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