Worried About Lyme Disease?
June 26, 2000 -- When Duchess County, New York, resident Sally picked up
14-year-old Amy from a summer program last year, she noticed that her daughter
seemed unusually fatigued. A couple of weeks later, Sally was shocked to
discover that the side of Amy's face had begun drooping. Sally immediately
suspected what her doctor confirmed: Despite having taken what the family
thought were adequate precautions against ticks, the girl had developed facial
nerve palsy, a symptom of untreated Lyme disease.
While numbers are on the rise among all age groups, the increase is
particularly worrisome to people with children. The Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) found that the percentage of Lyme sufferers under age 16
-- one of the groups that spend the most time outdoors and have the highest
rate of diagnosis -- has been gradually rising, from 21.7% in 1992 to 26.1% in
1998. "It's definitely an issue, especially for people whose houses are
near wooded areas," says Lisa, a mother of two in suburban New Jersey.
"Parents see it as a real problem."
The disease is also a growing concern to people living in the most heavily
affected regions of the country -- the Northeast and upper Midwest -- though
epidemiologists have confirmed cases in nearly every state. "In the last
several years, the numbers have ranged between 12,000 and 16,000," says
David T. Dennis, MD, coordinator of the Lyme Disease Program at the CDC.
Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by deer ticks and black-legged ticks.
Initial symptoms, which show up three to 32 days after the bite, are flu-like
in nature; most, but not all, sufferers develop a bull's-eye rash at the site
of the bite. Facial nerve palsy, like Amy had, can also occur. Sufferers who
aren't treated soon enough after the tick bite can suffer chronic problems
ranging from joint pain to heart problems to neurological disorders.
While experts warn people to take precautions during the spring and summer
months, when the risk for contracting Lyme disease peaks, they aren't calling
for extreme measures. "Parents shouldn't worry so much that they prevent
their children from playing outside," advises Henry M. Feder, MD, a
professor of family medicine and pediatrics at the University of Connecticut
Health Center. "Even if you do get a tick bite, in most areas chances are
only one in 100 to one in 1,000 that you'll get the disease."