Baltimore Sun

An Uptick In Lyme Disease

Summer is the most common time for cases of the deer tick-borne disease, which is on the rise in Maryland

July 26, 2007|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,Sun Reporter

Kelly Strzelecki has a new reason to avoid ticks -- not that she needed one. "I hate them -- who doesn't?" she asked, prefacing her latest experience with the tiny bloodsuckers.

Her son, Graham, 7, developed a rash last month while the Catonsville family was attending a YMCA camp in tick-infested woods. A week later, the boy fell ill. "He had these unexplained fevers, and he was lethargic and kind of pale," recalled Strzelecki.

Medical tests showed Graham had contracted Lyme disease, a tick-borne infection that's notoriously difficult to spot and well-entrenched in the forests of Maryland and neighboring states.

Confirmed Lyme disease cases have grown steadily over the past decade in the United States. In Maryland, the number of reported cases more than doubled between 2001 and 2006 from 608 cases to 1,248, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

As of July 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had received 675 unconfirmed reports in Maryland this year, a 26 percent increase over the same period last year.

Public health officials said the number of Lyme disease infections is probably on the rise, but cautioned that growing public awareness of the disease might also be responsible for more diagnoses.

Epidemiologists first recorded Lyme disease as a discrete illness in the United States in the mid-1970s, after a number of children in Lyme, Conn., developed joint pain and circular red rashes. Scientists identified Borrelia burgdorferi, the spiral-shaped bacteria that cause the disease, in 1983.

The bacteria are carried by tiny, black-legged ticks that are no larger than a sesame seed. Also known as deer ticks, they feed on deer, mice and other mammals, then pass the Lyme-causing bacteria to humans and domesticated animals. The ticks are particularly common in wooded areas with dense brush, tall grass and heavy leaf litter.

Most people contract the infection in May, June and July, but symptoms often appear in late summer and early fall.

Dr. Charles A. Haile, chief of infectious disease at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said family doctors have become more comfortable diagnosing and treating Lyme disease in recent years.

In fact, he might not notice a rise in infections, he said, because general practitioners now refer fewer patients to specialists like him. "The expertise in diagnosing Lyme has grown a lot in Maryland over the past 10 years," he said.

Last Updated- April 2019

Lucy Barnes