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 Calvin Williams, Jr., MD, PhD, a specialist in Infectious Diseases at MedStar Union Memorial 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. Laboratory testing is helpful if done correctly, but not all providers are familiar with the methodology, which can lead to false positives,” says Dr. Williams. “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 in geographical areas where Lyme disease is not prevalent may not think to test for the infection.”
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 should be removed as soon as possible using fine-tipped tweezers.
Lyme disease was first recognized 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. Williams 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.”
This article appeared in the summer 2018 issue of Destination: Good Health. Read more articles from this issue.
Dr. Williams is board certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases. He specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis, and management of patients with acute and chronic infections including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, sexually transmitted diseases, and skin and soft tissue infections.