2013-06-12 / Front Page

Local cases of Lyme disease rising

by Kate Evans


Source Centers for Disease Control Source Centers for Disease Control Numbers of Morgan County Lyme disease cases have increased since this time last year.

The Morgan County Health Department has had 17 confirmed Lyme disease cases since January, said nurse Patty Caldwell.

The Health Department had a total of 22 confirmed Lyme disease cases reported for all of 2012.

In 2011, the Health Department had 12 confirmed Lyme cases by late July. In 2010, they had 12 confirmed cases reported by mid-June.

The Health Department gets reports from hospital emergency rooms and area physicians that see county patients.

Some doctors treat the cases without having them laboratory-confirmed so the numbers may not indicate all possible Lyme disease cases, Caldwell said.

Hahn seeing lots of bites

Dr. Matthew Hahn of Hahn and Nelson Family Medicine has treated two or three suspected Lyme disease cases so far this year. In 2009 to 2011 he said he was seeing almost a case a day of suspected Lyme disease.

Hahn said he has seen a lot of tick bites this year— generally around two per week. Patients were either concerned about a localized reaction to the tick bite or had a piece of the tick still embedded, which he removed.

A two to three millimeter red circular raised bump at the site of the tick bite is not the bull’s eye rash characteristic of Lyme disease, but is a localized reaction to the bite, Hahn said.

“It’s incredibly important to take care to look for ticks and to know the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease,” Hahn said.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can include fever, headache, flu-like symptoms and joint pains for up to a week with no obvious cause.

Some patients get a very red round or oval rash that’s at least four to six inches in size. Sometimes that rash will have an outer ring with a clearing inside and a red center, creating a bull’s eye appearance.

Around 10 to 20% of patients have no rash, Hahn said. The rash can get very large.

No testing is required for Lyme disease when the characteristic bull’s eye rash is present.

“When you have the rash, it is Lyme disease,” Hahn noted.

Testing for Lyme disease in the early stages can be inaccurate, he said. In the later stages the blood test is more reliable.

Patients should be treated with a full course of antibiotics. The sooner they are seen and treated, the better, Hahn said.

The tough cases are possible Lyme disease, when patients have headache, fever and joint pain, but no rash. His approach is to treat potential Lyme disease with antibiotics because of the uncertainty.

“The worst thing you can do is miss a case,” Hahn said.

Get treated early

Treatment early in the course of the disease is extremely effective, Hahn said.

Acute cases of Lyme disease that are caught early and treated get better. Three to four weeks of antibiotics such as Doxycycline or Amoxicillin are usually prescribed.

If untreated, the disease can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In rare cases, it can be fatal.

“Catch it early. Get it treated,” Hahn advised.

Hahn hasn’t seen any other cases of tick-borne illness besides Lyme disease.

Other tick-borne illnesses

While the majority of tickborne illnesses in West Virginia are Lyme disease cases, sporadic cases of other rare tick-borne diseases such tularemia, erlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis have been found in the state since 2000. There was one case of anaplasmosis in the state in 2012.

Symptoms of most other tick-borne diseases can be similar to Lyme disease with fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain and fatigue.

Check for ticks

Check yourself, children and pets for ticks daily. If a tick is found, remove it as soon as possible. The ticks that carry Lyme disease are very small.

If you think you’ve been exposed to Lyme disease and have symptoms, especially a rash or a rash with a bull’s eye, see your physician.

See related stories on page 9.

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