The rash and the rest are some - only some - of the main clinical
symptoms of a nasty tick-carried ailment called Lyme Disesase ,
of which 13 cases have
been verified in Washington state in the past two years, from both
sides of the Cascades,
including King County.
Untreated - which often happens because it's undiagnosed -
Lyme Disease can
cause facial paralysis, visual disturbances, emotional problems, heart
problems and crippling joint pains. It kills
infrequently, but it can make life
forever miserable .
''We consider Lyme Disease
as endemic in all of Washington state,'' says Dr. Todd Damrow, research
microbiologist with the state Office of Public Health laboratories
With or without a tick bite, anyone with the symptoms who has been
tramping the woods recently should consult a physician
and mention Lyme Disease
Saving the tick and if symptoms appear, taking it a physician to pass
on to the state labs for analysis of its body
fluids ''would be very helpful'' for arriving at a certain diagnosis,
It would help get around one major problem for diagnosing the
bacterially caused disease :
analyzing a patient's blood miss as many actual cases of Lyme
Disease as they identify.
Another problem is that the disease ,
named after a Connecticut town where it was first discovered a few
years back, is still strange to many physicians,
although less so to those on the East Coast, where there are now over
1,000 cases a year. And, because Lyme Disease 's symptoms are common to
many ailments, it takes careful doctoring to
figure out just what disease is
Fortunately, Lyme Disease
is treatable with antibiotics and, according to a June 30 New York
Times spread on the ailment, most sufferers getting
proper care escape with no lasting aftereffects.
To physicians here, state and county health authorities are getting out
the word that Lyme Disease
is with us and is likely to show up again and again in a state where a
large part of the population takes to the woods
Damrow cautions that 13 cases do not an epidemic make
and should not create excessive fears about enjoying the outdoors.
Their sudden appearance in this state, he says, ''stems, we suspect,
from more and more doctors being sensitized to
the disease and looking for it. Plus, who
knows, it might be caused by an increasing distribution of the
organism in the wild-animal population.''
The disease is associated with
rodent ticks in the East, Midwest and in California and Oregon, and
mainly with rodent
ticks in Western Washington.
Ticks in Western Washington are relatively so few that I've found many
folks around here don't know what they're seeing
when they find one of the little critters crawling about looking for a
three-star patch of skin to bite into for a meal.
Hungry ticks are tiny, about the size of an ''o'' in newspaper type.
Ticks gorging on blood, however, can
swell to the size of a wad of chewing gum, and are not hard to
recognize once you get over the disgust of figuring out that's a
creature ballooning out of your hide.
There are places in Eastern Washington where the bushes seem to rain
ticks. People frequenting such environs get used
to inspecting themselves, their children and their pets, especially
dogs, after every jaunt in the brush. Partly that's
because ticks there are pestiferous in general, partly because more
people east of the Cascades are aware that ticks carry
major diseases other than Lyme
Disease , such as Rocky Mountain
Tuck in your pants around the ankles, wear long-sleeved shirts, dose
yourself with repellents rich in DEET (100 percent
is best for everything). So goes the advice.
All that helps if the day is not blazing hot. Ticks will get on you
anyway. Since ticks have evolved to insert their
blood-sucking snouts without your feeling it much if at all, you have
to check every nook and crevice of the old body for
a proper tick search.
And those ticks you find should be tweezered unbroken into firewater
for storage. (If you use gin, remember to use
something other than a martini glass.)
Just in case of Lyme Diseae
John de Yonge is a P-I columnist.