farmer hazard: lyme.
Out they hatch! Make sure you get naked, and check for ticks.
MILFORD – A local pathologist and his team have developed a new DNA test to catch Lyme disease early and treat it more swiftly.
“The earlier Lyme disease is detected, the better chance we have of treating it,” said Dr. Sin Hang Lee of Milford Hospital. “The most important thing is for people to recognize when they have symptoms of Lyme disease and go immediately to an emergency room or walk-in clinic to be tested, rather than waiting two weeks for an appointment at a doctor’s office,” he said.
Lyme disease is spread by black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. The insects carry bacteria that enter the skin at the location of the bite. “We need to catch the bacteria when it’s circulating in the blood, before it hides in certain tissues of the body,” said Lee. “If, after someone is infected, the bacteria are identified without delay, the patient can be effectively treated with antibiotics and totally cured. There’s a small window of opportunity and educating patients about what symptoms to look for is important.”
Symptoms may include joint and muscle pain, fatigue, fever, neck pain, body aches, chills and skin rash, said Lee. “The problem is these symptoms aren’t always specific to Lyme disease. If you have flu-like symptoms, but it’s not the flu season, then it’s a good idea to go to an ER or clinic and be tested,” he said, adding that April to November is the time of greatest risk.
If a patient presents with symptoms, Lee said the new blood test will be ordered and results will be available within a few days, rather than in several weeks, which previous tests took.
“The ER may give oral antibiotics right away, just to be safe, and if the test comes back negative, stop treatment. But if the test comes back positive for Lyme disease, antibiotic treatment will continue for three to four weeks,” he said.
If patients are infected, but not treated quickly, they may develop tissue damage in joints, the heart and the nervous system, said Lee. “The time to seek medical attention is when you feel sick. Don’t wait, because if you wait too long, the test won’t help,” he said.
Lyme disease is endemic in the suburban towns of the Milford area because of heavily wooded sections. Lee’s group reported that 25 to 50 percent of the engorged deer ticks removed from human skin bites in this area were found to be infected by Lyme disease.
A scientific medical paper about the new blood test will be printed in this month’s edition of the “American Journal of Clinical Pathology.” Lee is also writing a second report for publication with Dr. Jay Walshon, chairman of emergency medicine at Milford Hospital and Dr. Jessie Williams of the Milford Hospital Walk-In Urgent Care Center.
Lee said that 6 to 7 percent of those using the hospital’s emergency room have symptoms of Lyme disease. Patients and physicians interested in further information on the test may call George Poole, manager of Milford Medical Laboratory, at 203-876-4496.