Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Lyme disease cases climb slightly

JULIET WANG
Capital News Service

LANSING—Eileen Craven of Holly has been helping her 9-year-old son battle Lyme disease for more than a year.

Before the diagnosis, her son frequently complained of being tired, but Craven really knew something was wrong when her son woke up one day with no color in his face, absolutely pale. When he went out to play baseball, it seemed like he forgot how to play. He slept late and was still tired.

“We have been actively battling this disease for 15 months,” Craven said. “We never saw a tick and we never saw a rash.”

It is serious disease, which can have complications. It often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Reported cases of Lyme disease have increased slightly in Michigan, with 117 so far this year, up from 103 in 2009 and 56 in 2006, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial disease that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a rash. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.

So far this year, top counties with Lyme disease are Menominee with 30 cases, Berrien and Oakland with nine each, and Ontonagon and Kent with six each.

Education and awareness are necessary to help prevent, effectively treat and diagnose Lyme disease, experts said.

It took about six months from the time Craven noticed a difference in her son’s behavior to getting him diagnosed correctly. In between, he was misdiagnosed with anemia and underwent blood tests for cancer.  Her son was losing his balance and struggling to walk.

“I requested a Lyme and parasite test because of where we live,” Craven said.

Her family live sin a wooded area and her children frequently play outdoors.

Kim Signs, epidemiologist at the Department of Community Health (DCH), said Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics.

A lot more reports of Lyme disease have shown up in the Upper Peninsula, Signs said.

Counties with known blacklegged tick populations and elevated risk of Lyme disease include Ontonagon, Menominee, Benzie, Manistee, Oceana, Muskegon, Ottawa, Ionia, Allegan, Barry, Kalamazoo, Van Buren, Cass, St. Joseph and Berrien, according to the DCH.

“We do have a situation where the ticks are invading the west side of the Lower Peninsula,” said Signs.

Because of ticks moving from Indiana, the southwest corner of the state is a risk area, she added.

Counties with increased risk of new establishing blacklegged tick populations are Gogebic, Marquette, Delta, Dickinson, Houghton, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Wexford, Newaygo, Lake, Montcalm, Kent, Gratiot, Eaton, Calhoun and Branch, Signs said.

She said the public should know the risk areas, in addition, she said, physicians and health department officials in risk areas should be on the lookout for the disease so they can diagnose it correctly.

Linda Lobes, president of the Michigan Lyme Disease Association, said, “Testing for this disease is difficult.” One technique is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), but she said it’s inadequate.

Lobes said, “It’s just a poor response and Lyme is diagnosed more clinically than anything.”

Lobes was 23 when she got sick and it took three years to finally received the correct diagnosis.

Now at age 44, Lobes is close to being back to normal.

“I am 95 percent fully recovered, compared to what I was, back before Lyme,” Lobes said.

Since her son’s diagnosis, Craven pulled her children out of public school to help him  battle this disease.

“It’s affected everything, every part of our lives,” Craven said. “My 5-year-old looks up to his older brother and he wants to play with his brother and he can’t.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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