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Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA) - Saturday, June 17, 2006

It's shaping up to be a bad year for Lyme disease in Sonoma County, with the number of confirmed cases approaching the total for all of last year.

Fifteen cases were reported through April, according to county health officials, who said May and June tend to be the months in which the tick-borne disease is worst.

There were 16 cases all of last year in Sonoma County.

``In our area, it is a disease that people have to be aware of and take precautions,'' said Dr. Mary Maddux-Gonzalez, the Sonoma County public health officer.

``It is an issue in our community because we have the conditions in which the Western black-legged tick is present,'' she explained, identifying the leading carrier of Lyme disease . ``They like wet conditions, we have had a lot of growth; the conditions are there that are favorable for ticks.''

There are not only more ticks, but 3 percent of them, slightly more than normal, are carrying Lyme disease , said Jim Wanderschied, manager of the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito & Vector Control District, which contracts with Sonoma State University for an annual count.

``Due to the weather, the late rains and tall grasses, there is going to be an abundance of ticks,'' Wanderschied said. ``At the ends of the grasses, you can see ticks with their claws extended, waiting for a person, dog or deer to walk by.''

Lyme disease can cause such flu-like symptoms as nausea, body aches and headaches and, if not treated, arthritis, heart ailments and nervous system disorders.

It is carried by bacteria secreted by Western black-legged ticks, which behind a rash and a bite that evolves into a bull's-eye the size of a wine glass.

Part of the increase in Lyme disease may be explained by new reporting standards adopted last year. Both laboratories and physicians are now required to report positive blood tests, said Dr. Gary Green, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa.

"What is happening is the more efficient system of lab reporting is improving our surveillance for Lyme disease in the county,'' Green said. ``I don't suspect we will have a huge number of cases. But our reporting will be better.''

Green said the chance of getting Lyme disease from a bite is slight, maybe one out of 40, because even if the tick is a carrier, it has to be on a person for 48 hours to impart the disease -carrying bacteria.

And the bull's-eye patch formed at the tick bite, which occurs in 80 percent of people who get the disease , may be the best indicator, Green said.

``It starts out as a patch, the size of a silver dollar, and gets bigger, and as it gets bigger it also slowly fades in the middle,'' Green said. ``The bulls-eye rash is very indicative.''

Green said Lyme disease can be easily treated with doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections.

``If it is treated early, it is very curable,'' Green said. ``If it goes on for years and years, even after appropriate treatment people are left with symptoms.''

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or

Year_________Sonoma County______State





*As of April 30


Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services, California Department of Health Services

Other facts

Carriers: Western black-legged ticks, which usually are found in shaded grasses, shrubs and piles of leaves.

Symptoms: Flulike body aches and fever along with a spreading rash. If untreated can move into arthritis, heart ailments or nervous system disorders.

Peak months: May and June.

Treatment: Usually cured by antibiotics.

Avoiding tick bites: Stay out of brushy and grassy areas, wear light-colored clothing to be able to easily see ticks, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and use repellents that include DEET.

Finding ticks: Look for ticks around the hairline, armpits, back of knees and groin.

Tick removal: Grasp it with tweezers and pull gently straight out, not twisting. Apply antiseptic and if you develop a rash or other symptoms within two to four weeks, call your doctor.

Testing: The Sonoma County Public Health Department will test the tick to determine if it is infected with Lyme disease . In Copyright since 2000