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Anderson - Lyme Disease remains common as summer approaches

May 16, 2004|By BILL ANDERSON

The recent summer-like weather has more than just the cicadas active. If you spend much time in the field, you are quite likely to come home with a few unwanted guests - wood ticks or deer ticks. This raises concerns about Lyme disease, which is still quite common in this region and is showing up in humans and pets.

As most people now know, Lyme disease is spread by ticks. Symptoms seem to vary, but are often described as "flu-like." Lyme can also cause pain in various joints and, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme can even affect the heart or the central nervous system.

Most of the literature points out that a big problem is that the symptoms are very similar to many other ailments. Fortunately, doctors now know that Lyme is common and are better prepared to identify it as a cause of the problems.

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Another bit of good news is that once identified, Lyme can be treated with oral medicines. Advanced stages of the disease are usually treated with intravenous drugs, which may include medicines to reduce swelling in joints.

Probably the best approach for dealing with Lyme disease is to just avoid ticks but that is not an option for many of us. If you need to be in the field, the recommendation is to wear long clothing, tuck pants legs into boots and wear long-sleeve shirts. Most people fail to do that when it's hot and humid outside, though.

The CDC and other organizations also recommend the use of insect repellents. The risk of tick attachment can be reduced by applying insect repellents containing DEET to clothes and exposed skin.

According to the CDC, DEET can be used safely on children and adults as long as it is applied according to Environmental Protection Agency guidelines (Sorry, it is a government agency after all).

Last week I received an e-mail from a reader who wondered if there was a vaccine that he could get for preventing Lyme disease. His job is a cable television installer and he works in weeded areas and often finds ticks on him or on his clothes.

It was a good question - particularly since I know from personal knowledge that there is a Lyme vaccine for dogs and that our vets recommend it for our labs that are in the field almost daily.

There was a human vaccine called LYMErix, according to the CDC, but the manufacturer discontinued distribution of the drug in February 2002. I was unable to find any other information on a vaccine for people, so you should check with your doctor if interested.

Most of us will not really curb or eliminate outdoors activities in fear of Lyme, but it is something to be aware of. A few basic safety precautions certainly make sense.

Don't forget your dogs. It seems like we are hearing more and more about sporting dogs and Lyme Disease, so you should consult with your vet on the best approach for your pet.

For more information on Lyme disease, chech the American Lyme Disease Foundation Web site at www.lyme.org.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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