Could You Have This Summer Sickness?
Lyme Disease Is More Widespread
No one knew why 16-year-old Erica Brand's hoarseness persisted. As a high school student dreaming of a singing career who planned to audition for a college music scholarship, the Valley Cottage, New York, teen saw a number of doctors and voice specialists. Many dismissed her problems as psychosomatic or said she was simply straining her vocal cords. But Erica's mother, Jane Kelman, a psychiatrist, suspected otherwise.
Erica was put on steroids for vocal cord inflammation but quickly developed rashes, pain in her joints, and severe dizziness. Checked for Lyme at her mother's insistence, Erica tested negative. One doctor dismissed her problems as "a weird virus" and suggested waiting six weeks to try anything else.
But while watching her daughter's condition deteriorate, Kelman knew time was their enemy. After about two months, she found a Lyme specialist who made a clinical diagnosis based on Erica's symptoms and immediately put the teen on antibiotics. Within two and a half weeks her symptoms started to lift.
It was several months before Erica was able to return to school, and the delay in treating her Lyme disease left her vocal cords permanently damaged. Erica, now 26 and a part-time piano teacher, computer researcher, and writer, can no longer sing or speak above a whisper.
It's been more than 30 years since Lyme disease was first identified in the northeastern Connecticut town for which it is named and linked to tick bites. Today it's the commonest tick-borne illness in the United States. Nearly 24,000 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2005, almost triple the number reported in 1993. Studies show the actual figure could be up to 10 times higher (240,000 cases a year).
And just as the illness is becoming more widespread, it is also becoming more controversial. As in Erica's case, doctors vary on how to identify the presence of Lyme. Treatment has also become a matter of debate, with some doctors even jeopardizing their careers to get patients the help they need.
How worried about getting Lyme should you be? That depends on how careful -- and lucky -- you are. Most ticks don't carry the disease. Even if you're bitten by an infected tick, removing it within the first 36 hours makes your odds of getting it slim. If you do contract Lyme, how easy it is to cure depends on how soon it's treated. Here's the latest on protecting yourself and your family.
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