Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lyme disease often goes undiagnosed

I had a call last week from a lady who explained that her granddaughter had possibly contracted Lyme Disease.  

“It’s so sad to see her twin able to play sports, but Mary hurts so badly and is so tired all the time that she just can’t keep up with the other girls.  What can we do?”

Well, fortunately, the doctor that the parents had taken the teenager to had tested for Lyme Disease, and although the tests are notoriously unreliable either in the early stages or the late stages, Mary’s test was positive, so she was started on antibiotics.

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She had about a month before found a tick that apparently had attached itself for a week, and the symptoms started soon thereafter. Many of the physicians who do recognize, diagnose and treat Lyme know that immediate treatment with antibiotics often will completely cure the disease within a month or six weeks.

Too many, however, will either delay the treatment, or interrupt it for observation after the first three weeks of antibiotics, and Lyme will get a second wind during the interim. If a patient has had the symptoms for more than a couple of months, it’s going to take more than a couple of months of treatment.

There is a scare afoot about breeding up a “Super Bacterial Organism” by treating with too much antibiotics for too long a period, and I’ve talked to many unfortunate victims of this mindset who will never get completely shut of Lyme Disease after such timidity, in my own non-physician-but-educated-victim mind.

I had Lyme for 10 years before it was diagnosed and treated, yet that’s not really the fault of my doctors, but of the national organizations like CDC and AMA who refused for a long time to believe that Lyme was a problem outside of New England, where it was originally misdiagnosed as an outbreak of Juvenile Arthritis in the area around – Duh! – Old Lyme, Conn., in the mid-70s.

That initial outbreak closely followed the path of Hurricane Jennie across the Plum Island Government Animal Testing Facility opposite Long Island Sound from Old Lyme.

At that Facility, scientists were working with mutating spirochete organisms for use in Biological Warfare – that’s my own opinion, but I was once NBC Warfare (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) Officer on board a carrier, and had clearance for, as well as access to, the publications discussing such matters.

My belief was later confirmed by two men who worked on Plum Island, one of whom later died of Lyme Disease complications. Oh, yes, Lyme can be fatal, and can progress into more serious debilitating diseases such as MS and ALS. Don’t mess around with it.

Lyme symptoms are mainly cold-and-flu-like ailments that hang on, muscle or joint pain and stiffness, extreme fatigue, depression, blurred vision, memory loss and sleep disorder (which they now know are related), and severe arthritis.

It is sometimes accompanied by rashes, and the giveaway is a “bulls-eye” rash, usually around the tick-bite site. Actually, the Lyme spirochete bacteria has been found in almost all blood-sucking insects, but a tick is the perfect vector because it can keep infected blood in its system for up to three weeks. Yet only about a third of victims ever recognize that bulls-eye rash, so symptomatic treatment is recommended.

An animal is about seven times more likely to contract Lyme than a human, and the spirochete bacteria can be passed through the body fluids of an infected animal.

I knew a game warden who was sure he got Lyme from the blood of a deer, and outdoorsy people have been routinely well-informed for years about the disease.  

Veterinarians are probably more alert to the symptoms than physicians, and the Doxycycline one gets from a vet is the same pill one gets from a doctor, I understand.  I am not a cat person (we call cats out here at Brownspur “coyote bait”) but this seems funny to me: vet literature says that it’s hard to spot Lyme symptoms in a kitty cat, because they are so lethargic anyway!

I did give the grandmother (has anyone else noticed that grandmothers seem to get younger and stay better-looking nowadays?) the name and number of a doctor whom I know will recognize, diagnose, and treat Lyme Disease, in case they decide to get a second opinion later. It’s Down Heah, folks: believe it!