Lyme Disease numbers growing in Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Lyme Disease numbers growing in Wisconsin


WISCONSIN (WKOW) --  It seems every summer we hear warnings about the threat of tick bites and the possibility of Lyme Disease.  Now, that warning carries even more weight.

The CDC recently called Lyme Disease a "tremendous public health threat" with numbers 10 times more common that first thought.  Upwards of 300,000 people contract the disease each year.  Many of those cases are in Wisconsin.

According to the CDC, 96 percent of the nation's Lyme Disease is found in 13 states, including the badger state.

Dr. Jill Evenson of Janesville has worked extensively with Lyme patients and stopped by Wake Up Wisconsin to talk about the CDC report.

She says the new estimates, released at the 2013 International Conference on Lyme Borreliosis and Other Tick-Borne Diseases in Boston, aren't surprising.  Evenson says the disease has gone under-reported for years.

The revised Lyme case count comes from a survey of seven national laboratories, a national patient survey and a review of insurance information.

Evenson says it is a call to action.  She says we need more awareness about Lyme prevention in Wisconsin and better diagnostic testing.

Sometimes patients who believe they have contracted Lyme and exhibit the early symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue and the characteristic bull's-eye rash, will test negative.  Evenson says that result could be false, if they go in for testing too early.  Often, Lyme won't show up for a month, she says.  If your symptoms continue you made need a second test.

Untreated Lyme can cause severe complications including facial paralysis, meningitis, heart problems, shooting pain, arthritis and long-term neurological damage.

Treatment with oral antibiotics is usually effective for early-stage Lyme.  Later stages of the disease may require intravenous antibiotics.

Treatment has been somewhat controversial though.  While three to four weeks of oral antibiotics can usually knock out the disease from an infected person's system, it can linger on.

Some people report being sick for years with symptoms they need to treat with ongoing, long-course antibiotics.  They say the treatment is the only way they can live a normal life, but many insurance companies won't pay for the drugs and some doctors don't recognize continued antibiotics as an effective treatment. 

The disease is named after Lyme, Conn., where the illness was first identified in 1975. It's caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected deer ticks, which can be about the size of a poppy seed.

If you find a tick, use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp it as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure as to not twist or jerk the insect so parts don't break off and remain in the skin. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water. Stay clear of "folklore remedies," says the CDC, including painting the tick with nail polish or Vaseline, or using fire or heat to detach the tick from skin.

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