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More Lyme Disease Carrying Ticks Moving into Mid-Atlantic Region

By STACY SHAW
Bristow Beat
July 16, 2014 6:00 am

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[Photo: Deer tick, Scott Bauer , USDA, ARS, Virginia Cooperative Extension website]

[Photo: Deer tick, Scott Bauer , USDA, ARS, Virginia Cooperative Extension website]

WOODBRIDGE, Va. –  In response to a rise in Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses in the county, local experts gathered to discussed Lyme and other tick-borne diseases at a forum hosted by Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA 1) at the Ferlazzo Building June 10.

Lyme disease and similar illnesses caused by tick bites have become more prevalent in Virginia over the last decade, and most of the attendees of the meeting suffered from Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses themselves, or cared for a close family member who has been affected.

Virginia Delegate Rich Anderson (R-51st district) told the audience gathered in Woodbridge that one of his constituents had the tick-borne disease Bartonella that caused such severe vomiting that it ripped his esophagus.

Later, that constituent’s daughter told Bristow Beat that Bartonella has become so prevalent in Nokesville that she knows several people who have been diagnosed over the past year, including family members, neighbors and children in her son’s baseball league.

But, whereas tick-borne diseases were becoming more common, especially in rural Prince William, the different strains of the disease and other tick-borne illnesses that are not Lyme have made it more difficult to diagnose. In many cases, the attendees said that they knew more than their doctors about the different tick-borne diseases and their symptoms.

The wrong diagnosis

Because primary care physicians were unfamiliar with the more unique strains and “co-illnesses,” people were often not getting correct diagnoses in a timely manner.

Kathy Meyer, patient advocate, acknowledged that “research and treatment lags behind the epidemic,” saying there is “way too much that we don’t know.”

Meyer acknowledged that a major issue with the diagnosis is that the other diseases are harder to identify.

“Unfortunately, most people don’t ever see the bulls-eye,” said Andrea Young an epidemiologist from Prince William’s Health District and R.N. with the Virginia Department of Health.

Ticks on the move

Panelist said that because of all the difficulties in diagnosing, the patients do the doctors and future patients a great service when they educate them about these new emerging diseases and infections.

Young explained that over the past decade Lyme disease carrying ticks have moved from the northeast to the Mid-Atlantic region, which is one of the reasons Wittman felt it was important to hold the forum in the county.

Monte Skall, Executive Director of the National Capital Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Association said that since Lyme is so difficult to diagnose and treat, the best prevention is education. Plenty of literature was provided to the attendees including pamphlets detailing the different kinds of ticks, the diseases and infections they could cause and symptoms they might display.

Similar information is available online at www.natcaplyme.org.

Skall also strongly recommended that one save the tick and get that tick checked for Lyme. She explained it is much easier to find the disease in the insect than in the person.

“Do not flush that tick. Do not burn it. Keep it,” she said. “Put it in a plastic baggy.”

However she also notes that, “you may not even be aware that you have been bitten by a tick.”

Improved testing 

However, there is some good news. A quick and accurate test may be available shortly. Dr. Lance A. Liotta and Professor Alessandra Luchini of George Mason University’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine announced they have developed a “more accurate test for Lyme disease base on a urine sample.”

Lyme does not always show easily in blood samples, but Liotta said that it does more easily in urine, and also that the diagnosis is decisive since there is no other reason for the Lyme identifying protein to be present in a person’s urine.

“We hope to have it commercially available within the next couple of months,” Liotta said.

Although the panel discussion meant to inform the wider public, and was instead mainly attended by those who have already been affected by the disease, the meeting allowed many of the attendees to share their stories.

After the meeting, many shared contact information, and talked about meeting up again to form a support group and even a way to share information about the various tick-borne treatments.

Stacy Shaw is the editor of Bristow Beat and filed this report as part of a collaboration with Potomac Local News. 

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