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In the News

Ticked Off!

By Dr. Victor Gong, Medical Director of 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

Lyme Disease Cases Continue to Rise

With summer approaching, Maryland health officials reported that cases of Lyme disease increased by 33 percent in 1999 and the number is expected to be greater this summer because of the warm spring weather. News reports abound that warn people to take precautions to avoid the tick bites that cause the illness.

Last year, 659 cases of Lyme disease were confirmed by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, up from 494 the year before and from 66 in 1988. The increase mirrors the national trend, with about 18,000 cases reported to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year.

If treated with antibiotics within a few weeks of the tick bite, Lyme disease often is no more serious than a case of the flu. But if left untreated, it can produce chronic health problems, including arthritis, nerve damage and heart trouble. Weather conditions this year promise a bumper crop of tiny deer ticks.

Check your body or your child's body for ticks at the end of the day, looking carefully enough to find the speck-sized ticks in their nymphal stage.

Remove any ticks with tweezers using a slow, steady pull. A tick must remain attached to a human body for at least 24 hours to transmit the spiral-shaped Lyme bacterium, so even after a bite, removing the tick can prevent infection.

The classic symptom of Lyme disease is a circular, bull's-eye rash aroud the bite, appearing reddish on light-skinned people and darker than surrounding skin on dark-skinned people. Flulike complaints – headache, fever, chills, fatigue, and muscle aches – often appear three to 32 days after the bite.

The new, heavily advertised vaccine requires three shots over the course of a year and has a number of drawbacks.

Each shot costs $75 to $125, an expense not covered by most health insurance plans. It has been approved only for people between the ages of 15 and 70, and it is only about 80 percent effective after all three shots. Researchers believe booster shots will be necessary to maintain the protection. Because of the vagueness of many of the symptoms, CDC estimates that about one in three cases of Lyme disease is diagnosed and reported. More than 1,300 suspected cases were reported to the Maryland health department last year, about half meeting the CDC's official definition.

Deer, along with some varieties of mice, are the major carriers of the ticks. The infection is passed back and forth between the insects and the mammals. The Lyme vaccin is offered at both 75th St. Medical and 126th St. Medical Centers.

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