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Taking the Sting Out of Lyme Disease

Coastal Connecticut Research has an occasional column in “The Times” newspaper in Southeastern Connecticut.  Our most recent column discusses Lyme disease.  This was published in “The Times” on 9/11/2017.

There’s a lot we can boast about living in Southeastern Connecticut. Residents have access to Long Island Sound and lovely beaches, great recreation, beautiful vistas and some wonderful tourist attractions.  We also have the distinction of being the “birthplace” of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease has likely been around longer than the first time it was officially recognized in the Lyme, Connecticut area in 1975.  How did our realization that a small tick could wreak such havoc in regards to people’s health come about?  (And let’s not forget our pets affected as well!)

According to the Center for Disease Control, Lyme disease infects 300,000 people per year and is among the fastest growing vector-borne infectious diseases in the U.S.  Lyme disease was initially regarded as an East Coast occurrence, but has now spread throughout US. Abroad, a British rugby player, Matt Dawson,  recently made headlines for chronicling his battle with Lyme. He contracted the disease in England and has become a proponent of educating the public about his ordeal.
The genesis of officially recognizing what we now know today as Lyme disease harkens back to the early 1970’s.  At that time, children and adults in the Lyme area were living with some troubling health issues such as swollen knees, rashes on the skin, headaches, chronic fatigue and in some cases, paralysis.  Many of these individuals had no diagnosis as a result of their symptoms and no treatment.  Apparently, some of the women in this group, including mothers of suffering children, fought hard and advocated to be taken more seriously.  Their tenacity, and the work of researchers, eventually led to the recognition of Lyme disease.

Researchers ultimately learned Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Today, Lyme disease is diagnosed by a combination of signs, symptoms and lab testing.  The diagnosis of Lyme can be complicated by the fact there is no “gold standard” test for the diagnosis of early Lyme disease.  The bullseye rash, known medically as an Erythema Migrans (EM) rash, has been generally accepted as the marker of early Lyme infection.  However, the rash does not appear in all cases.  That rash can also be confused with other rashes.  What are people to do?

Today, researchers continue to study Lyme disease.  A current study underway in New London is aiming to develop a method of detecting Lyme disease earlier.  By establishing a series of tests to detect Lyme, perhaps we can diagnose the disease sooner in individuals who have been bitten by a tick.  Those participating in the study have either the appearance of a bullseye rash due to a tick bite or were recently bitten by a tick and are in the early stages of Lyme.  Those individuals have not yet taken an antibiotic for treatment.

What we do know is Lyme disease can be debilitating.  Through the persistence of people suffering from Lyme disease and going undiagnosed, we ultimately found out just how damaging a tick bite could be.  Through people who have been bitten by a tick coming forward to participate in research, someday we may be able to diagnose the disease sooner, thus treating individuals for the disease sooner.

Those who are interested in learning about Lyme research are welcome to speak with a member of the CCRstudies team by calling (860) 443-4567 or visit www.CCRstudies.com.

MaryLou Gannotti is the Director of Public Relations and Communications at Coastal Connecticut Research in New London. She can be reached by phone at (860) 443-4567 and by email at marylou@ccrstudies.com.

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