If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
Did you know that Maryland ranks among the states with the highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease? The most common infectious disease spread by the bite of ticks, Lyme disease is also more likely to be contracted in late spring through early fall. So if you live here, it's important to take precautions against Lyme disease, particularly in the summer months.
“Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, sometimes called deer ticks,” explains Ericson Catipon, MD, a specialist in internal medicine at MedStar Harbor Hospital. “Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a ‘bulls-eye’ shaped skin rash. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.”
Most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with a few weeks of antibiotics, especially when treatment is started early. However, many cases of Lyme disease are misdiagnosed, often resulting in debilitating symptoms that can last for years.
“Lyme disease is difficult to identify because it mimics many other disorders. It is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings such as a rash, and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Laboratory testing is helpful if done correctly, but not all providers are familiar with the methodology, which can lead to false positives,” says Dr. Catipon.
“As a result, some individuals end up being treated for Lyme disease rather than the condition that is the source of their symptoms. In addition, providers who trained in geographical areas where Lyme disease is not prevalent may not think to test for the infection,” he notes.
The risk of exposure to ticks is greatest in the woods and in the edge area between lawns and woods. However, ticks can also be carried by animals onto lawns and gardens and into houses by pets.
Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, applying pesticides, reducing tick habitat, and wearing long pants and sleeves to keep ticks off the body when outdoors. If a tick is found it is important that it be removed as soon as possible using fine-tipped tweezers.
Lyme disease was first recognized in the United States in 1975 after an unusual outbreak of arthritis near Lyme, Connecticut. Today, over 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year, though the true number of infections is thought to be much higher.
“Untreated Lyme disease can be very serious,” Dr. Catipon adds. “If you develop any of the symptoms associated with Lyme disease after a tick bite or being in a tick habitat, contact your healthcare provider.”