Are Doctors failing to diagnose Lyme Disease and what is the impact?

TickMay Is Lyme Disease Awareness Month In Florida!

Recently Channel 4 had a great article on their website pertaining to Lyme Disease.  I don’t know a lot about Lyme Disease but surprisingly I know several people who have it and who did not get diagnosed for a long time and suffered because of it.
It took a year for doctors to figure out  Ryan Bell had Lyme disease.  He  suffered excruciating pain, missed half of sixth grade, was fainting, lost the ability to walk many days.  Melissa Bell, Ryan’s mother, recounts those first few days.    “One day our son came home from school complaining, ‘Mom, I’m not sure what’s going on. I’m falling down in P.E., I’m dizzy,”‘ Bell said. “He started suffering from a sensory disorder. He was ultra sensitive to light and to touch. Taking a shower would put him in excruciating pain.”  Bell took Ryan to the doctor; many doctors. They didn’t know what was wrong with him. For months, tests were conducted, but it wasn’t until a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore suggested testing Ryan for Lyme disease that anyone suspected a tick could be causing his illness.  Even though Bell said she asked her son’s local doctors to test him for Lyme disease, no one did.  “Unfortunately, the doctors here did not feel it (Lyme disease) is a real risk,” she said. “We were told that Lyme disease does not exist in Florida or is very rare and that it could not be Lyme disease. He declined over the course of a year. He would have migraines that would require I.V., morphine. He would be screaming for help.”  After a year, Bell said, doctors finally tested her son for the disease that is passed to humans through a tick bite. Ryan tested positive.  “We discovered that he not only had Lyme disease, but he had six other infections,” Bell said. “Lyme disease causes immune suppression that can lead to other infections. With a tick bite you can actually get a real cocktail of parasitic, viral and bacterial infections. My son’s doctor not only missed Lyme disease, but also a host of infections.”
She thinks the delay in diagnosis led to her son’s severe illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the time, listed deer-borne ticks as a danger of Lyme disease. Those kinds of ticks are typically only prevalent in the Northeast.  Bell said the test used to diagnosis Lyme disease only checks for the type of bacteria in that particular tick.  But Dr. Kerry Clark, an associate professor of public health at the University of North Florida, said he has tested many ticks found in the Southeast that have tested positive for Lyme disease, not just here in Florida, but also in Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.   The most common carrier of the disease is the Lone Star tick.  Clark said his findings are significant because, “for years, medical practitioners and the public have been told that Lyme disease is rare to nonexistent in the southern United States.”
Clark said he has also discovered that Lyme disease is often mistaken for illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s.  There is a myth that ticks only live in wooded areas. Ticks live in any grassy area. Clark said the best way to remove one is to use tweezers to pull the insect out. Clark also will test a tick for free.
Bell said she never saw a tick on her son. She said they can fall out after 3-4 days. Tick bites can leave a rash on the skin. Other symptoms include fever, headache and fatigue.
“It’s crucial for parents, especially since children are at greatest risk of Lyme disease, to know to do daily checks for ticks on their children. Not just in  dense brush, it can be in your backyard, on soccer fields, anywhere that there’s grass, you can have ticks,” Bell said.
Below, I’ve listed some information that could be helpful in someone’s quest to learn more about Lyme Disease.

Fast facts

  • Lyme disease spreads only by a tick bite. Though the bite may go unnoticed, the infection usually starts with a painless, spreading rash where the tick had attached itself to the skin.
  • Noticing the early signs of Lyme disease and getting prompt treatment when they occur greatly reduces the severity and length of symptoms.
  • Even when the infection is found much later, antibiotic treatment is still successful for most people.

How Do I Know If I Have Lyme Disease?

The bull’s-eye rash of Lyme disease is obvious. If you have been exposed to a tick and have the rash, this is enough to make the diagnosis. But if you have no such rash, Lyme disease is hard to diagnose. It mimics other diseases, such as fibromylgia and there is often a long time lapse between symptoms.  Your health care provider will check for flu-like symptoms and take a sample of blood to check for a high antibody response to Lyme disease. However, blood testing is not completely reliable. It is also not accurate in the early weeks of infection, when treatment should really begin.

What Is the Treatment for Lyme Disease?

The typical treatment for early-stage Lyme disease is a 21-day course of oral antibiotics, usually doxycycline or amoxicillin, which usually kills the bacteria and prevents later symptoms. Shorter courses of treatment may also be effective. People treated early in the infection usually recover rapidly and completely.
Even if not diagnosed in the early stages, Lyme disease can still be successfully treated with antibiotics. In some cases, the disease doesn’t seem to fully respond to antibiotics; if it doesn’t, help should be sought at a specialized Lyme disease clinic.
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Some people may be given antibiotics to try to prevent Lyme disease. Antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease should only be given when the tick has been attached for at least 36 hours and the person has been in a region where there is a high risk of contracting Lyme disease.


Ticks do not jump. Instead, they must brush onto a person after direct contact. To reduce the risk of Lyme disease:

  • Avoid ticks’ favorite habitats. These include tall grass, leaf-covered ground, and brush. Instead, stay on open paths, cut grass or sand.
  • Dress properly. Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to see ticks on you. When possible, wear closed shoes and long pants. Tuck the hems of long pants into socks to block skin access.
  • Use insecticide. Spray your skin and clothes with insecticides containing DEET when outdoors.
  • Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. Removing ticks within 24-36 hours of tick attachment most often will prevent spread of the disease. If you find a tick on your skin, consult your doctor if you do not know how long it has been there or it is likely to have been there longer than one or two days.
  • Remove a tick properly. As soon as you see a tick, remove it by its head using fine-tipped tweezers.

There is no vaccine available against Lyme disease.
For more information about Lyme disease, click here.

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