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A new epidemic: The alarming growth of Lyme Disease

By Gabby Katz

Section: Arts

October 8, 2010

As the leaves turn brilliant colors in Boston, we try to take advantage of these last nice days outdoors by taking walks through the woods and going apple picking. At first, nothing besides midterms seems like it could ruin these beautiful days. Little do you know that there are ticks hiding in these wooded and grassy areas—ready for attack. WATCH OUT! Ticks this season are not actively seeking humans to suck their blood, this isn’t “Twilight” or anything, but now that you all live in Massachusetts, you should be aware of the growing disease sweeping this state that is tick-born.

Lyme Disease is a very hot topic in the medical world today, as its steady growth and prevalence of debilitating effects are becoming more widely known. It is a vector-borne (mainly ticks) infectious disease that is transmitted through a tick bite into the blood stream and can cause short term effects of “fatigue, fever, headache, mild stiff neck, arthralgia … etc.” and, if left untreated, can cause debilitating lifelong disabilities and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in Massachusetts in 2008, 60.9 per 100,000 people were diagnosed with Lyme Disease, in comparison to 5.8 per 100,000 people diagnosed with AIDS. Additionally, from 1992-2006 in the United States, the number of people with Lyme Disease increased 101 percent and 93 percent of these came from 10 states, including Massachusetts. Crazy, right? And, you probably have never even heard of this. This disease is no joke and what is even scarier is how it is diagnosed, what the treatments are and how the Lyme community has evolved.

The procedures for diagnosing Lyme Disease are continually changing as the disease was not even officially recognized until 1977. The way doctors usually diagnose it is through the appearance of a “bulls-eye” rash on the patient. Unfortunately, many patients do not get this rash. However, new blood analysis techniques are being developed to diagnose Lyme but there is little uniformity to this yet. Many people who have Lyme Disease also live in regions where doctors are not knowledgeable of this new emerging disease or who do not even recognize the disease’s existence, despite the recognition of the CDC. Additionally, many insurance policies only cover antibiotics for two to three weeks of treatment, although many research and stories from Lyme patients indicate that this treatment is only effective if the patient is diagnosed within the first month of infection. Often the alternative treatments proven successful for chronic Lyme patients are not recognized by insurance companies as necessary. According to the National Institutes of Health, only $23 million was allocated in 2010 towards Lyme research, and most of that is probably going towards the efforts of Infectious Disease Society of America to try to prove Lyme Disease “rare.” Meanwhile, the documentary “Under Our Skin” estimates that we are spending more than $2 billion per year on diagnosis, treatment and lost wages from Lyme Disease. Because of the lack of research, consensus of westernized medicine, and acceptance through insurance companies, thousands of people are swept under the “medical rug,” so to speak, and, as a result, patients and their families are experiencing lifelong negative consequences.

Due to this largely-overlooked, growing epidemic, patients and relatives are joining forces nationwide to build awareness and highlight the need for greater research and recognition within westernized medicine. Even the CDC states at the end of their annual report on Lyme Disease, “The results presented in this report underscore the continued emergence of Lyme Disease and the need for tick avoidance and early treatment interventions.” Yet, have you seen this in the news? Has your doctor ever warned you? That’s probably a NO, making this a HUGE problem. Well, let me be the first to warn you, and give you a few bullet points on how to avoid Lyme Disease when walking through wooded areas or areas with tall grass.

Being informed is the first step in protecting yourself. It would suck to miss a semester worth of classes from a nasty bug, so just be smart. Tune in next week for more health tips and, as always, please send me an e-mail at gkatz10@brandeis.edu with any health-related questions you may have.

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