Lyme disease: A bigger threat to NJ than Zika and West Nile virus combined?
There’s been a lot of attention paid to the Zika and West Nile viruses lately, but thousands of Garden State residents are coming down with another type of disease that can be just as debilitating and dangerous — and sometimes very hard to detect.
“We do have concerns about Zika and West Nile virus, but Lyme disease in our part of the country is extremely dangerous in the sense that it’s much more common, so it’s important to raise awareness about it,” said Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey, affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• In 2014 there were 2,589 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in New Jersey.
• In 2013 there were 2,785 cases.
• In 2012 there were 2,732 cases.
• In 2011 there were 3,398 cases.
• In 2010 there were 3,320 cases,
He stressed sometimes you know if you’ve been infected with Lyme, but many times you don’t.
“You hear about the textbook case of Lyme disease with a large bullseye-type rash, but many people don’t have that classic textbook appearance. For example, about half the people may not have a rash at all, and many people don’t recall a tick bite,” said Louie said.
He said the deer tick that carries Lyme disease can be very hard to spot because it tends to be very, very small.
So how do you know if you’ve got it?
According to the New Jersey Health Department, the early symptoms of Lyme disease may resemble those of various other types of infectious and non-infectious diseases, and can include:
• Stiff neck
• Muscle aches
• Joint pain
“The early symptoms of Lyme disease would be a flu-like illness, but it’s like having the flu minus the respiratory tract symptoms, so you’re not coughing or have a runny nose,” Louie said.
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, and Louie said if you get prompt treatment you should suffer no long-term complications — but if the disease goes unrecognized you may wind up with what’s called chronic Lyme disease.
“That could include other manifestations such as swollen joints, particularly the knee, sometimes even meningitis and sometimes even affecting the heart,” he said.
How to avoid Lyme disease:
Louie said if you’ve been outside, in a wooded area, or even on a lawn, when you come inside “you should certainly look at yourself in the mirror, and look for under the arms and in the groin. (Ticks) do like the warm areas, and of course if you don’t look very closely you will miss them. Also look on your back.”
He added: “Try to avoid situations where you’ll be exposed to ticks. Try to wear long pants. Use tick repellant. Try not to brush up against tall grass in the woods and stick to the path. It’s something to be careful about, but not so much hysterical, shall we say.”
Louie also said Lyme disease is probably under-diagnosed.
"To have a reported case you typically have a positive blood test, and sometimes we just treat without getting a blood test," he said.
He added it’s also important to remember ticks carry multiple diseases.
“Lyme disease is one, but in this area you can also get something called babibiosis, and anaplasma. Both of those can give someone fever, headache and muscle aches, and you may have more than one tick-borne disease at a time.”
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