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Kaiser Lyme Disease Advice and Information
Geographic Distribution of Ticks in the United States - CDC Maps 2012


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 here.

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, Damrow says.

It would help get around one major problem for diagnosing the bacterially caused disease : Tests 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 at play.

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 frequently.

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 disease  organism in the wild-animal population.''

The disease  is associated with deer and 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 Spotted Fever.

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.
Edition: FINAL
Section: Editorial
Page: A11
Record Number: 8801190337
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