By Jayme Carlson, Guest Columnist
Spring is finally here. After a long and cold winter, Minnesotans are anxious to spend more time in the outdoors. Central Minnesota Lyme Awareness (CMLA) group reminds everyone that deer ticks, which transmit Lyme disease and other co-infections, become more active when temperatures are above 35°F.
One tick bite may transmit over a dozen diseases including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and other tick-borne illnesses. Lyme disease is widespread and is found in over 65 countries worldwide. Lyme disease is the fastest growing epidemic in the U.S., with new cases surpassing AIDS.
It is unclear how many cases of tick-borne diseases are properly diagnosed or reported each year. As of 2013, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) now estimates that over 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are occurring each year, replacing their original number of 30,000.
Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases may be difficult to diagnose because their symptoms mimic those of other disorders. In addition, the only distinctive hallmark unique to Lyme disease, the “bullseye” rash, is absent in almost half of the people who become infected. Effective tools to manage and diagnose Lyme disease are lacking. Diagnostic lab tests have significant limitations with many false negatives causing treatment to be delayed and problematic.
Tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease can attack virtually any system in the body. Some of the early symptoms may include a flu-like condition, with fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, achiness and fatigue.
Late stage symptoms can include pain in various joints and muscles, neurological problems, heart involvement, problems with vision or hearing, migraines, memory loss or other symptoms.
Lyme disease is often mistaken for other illnesses since the symptoms often mirror other medical problems, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, RA, lupus or Alzheimer’s disease. Lyme and other tick-borne disease symptoms may come and go and be replaced by new symptoms. Symptoms may be subtle or pronounced.
A significant number of patients with possible Lyme disease symptoms do not develop or notice the distinctive rash or have a positive lab test. A physician should then rely on a detailed medical history and a physical exam, which are important for a clinical diagnosis of Lyme disease, with laboratory tests playing a supportive role.
The inadequacies and inaccuracies of the current diagnostic tests and many physicians’ lack of advanced level training and experience with tick-borne diseases often prevent a correct diagnosis. Choosing a Lyme literate health care practitioner is an important first step in getting a proper diagnosis and a successful treatment regimen for Lyme disease and other tick-borne co-infections.
CMLA emphasizes the importance of prevention such as: wearing protective clothing; clothing sprays including permethrin and DEET; essential oil based bug repellents and immediate tick checks after being outside, especially on the edges of woods and paths.
It is very important to be educated and aware of early symptoms. In most cases symptoms are lessened and sometimes eliminated by antibiotics especially if the illness is treated early. Delayed or inadequate treatment can lead to relapsing symptoms and more serious problems which can be disabling and difficult to treat. It is very important to seek prompt medical care if symptoms appear to ensure a successful outcome.
CMLA is non-profit group dedicated to making a difference by creating and increasing awareness of Lyme disease within the community. The group’s work also includes a monthly support group and advocacy to help increase the knowledge and understanding of Lyme disease and other tick borne illnesses among the general public and medical community. CMLA meets the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Staples Alliance Church.
Jayme Carlson of Staples is the founder and president of Central Minnesota Lyme Awareness. She can be reached at jaymecarl firstname.lastname@example.org.