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STUDY: Doctors recognizing new consequences of tick-borne illness
AUTHORS: Dr. Brian Fallon
ABSTRACT: More and more doctors are recognizing that Lymes can cause brain problems — including memory loss, fatigue, disorientation, even severe depression.
COMMENTARY: Researchers are trying to determine just how prevalent these problems are.
Dr. Brian Fallon of the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University said brain scans of people infected can show areas that appear to be damaged.
“There’s no doubt that there are people out there with significant neurologic or neuro-psychiatric problems who are quite impaired and who aren’t being recognized as having Lyme disease,” he said.
The number of Lyme disease cases reported in the United States is approaching 20,000 a year. Many experts think the actual number is 10 times that and climbing sharply. The biggest danger is at this time of year, when the ticks that carry the disease are most likely to be biting.
Lyme disease remains concentrated in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But cases have now been reported in almost every state.
One of the biggest problems is that symptoms vary widely. Most people bitten by an infected tick have either no symptoms or flu-like symptoms easily cured with antibiotics. About 10 percent get chronic pain in the joints and the best guess is that the brain problems occur in 10 percent to 15 percent of cases.
Treatment results vary too. Antibiotics can often help the joint pain and the brain problems, but not always.
The manufacturer of the only Lyme disease vaccine took it off the market citing poor sales following unproven allegations of side effects. So the only protection now is to avoid tick bites by wearing long clothing and applying insect repellent — cutting the risk of a disease that for some can have serious consequences.