By DR. KAREN LATIMER
"Real Housewives" star Yolanda Foster's struggle with Lyme disease is once again putting a spotlight on the illness. She is searching worldwide for a cure, but unfortunately for her, right now, the best defense is prevention and early identification. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, and in the vast majority of patients, the treatment is effective. In fact, there is some debate over whether chronic Lyme disease is a true diagnosis, or if patients suffering with pain, fatigue and neurologic symptoms post-treatment have a different disease altogether. Medical professionals do agree Lyme disease can result in debilitating symptoms if left untreated.
Lyme disease was named after the origin of its discovery, Lyme, CT. While those living in the northeast and the Midwest are most at risk, almost every state across the country now has diagnosed cases of Lyme. You are at risk if you live near or visit any locations with a deer population. The more time spent outdoors, especially in wooded or grassy areas, the more at risk you become.
What was once thought to be a small, localized disease, is now known to be a much more prevalent and widespread problem. According to the CDC, 300,000 people in the U.S. are getting Lyme each year and the numbers are growing.
Doctors all over the country need to maintain a high level of suspicion, even in areas not considered Lyme hot spots, because early diagnosis is critical for effective treatment.
How do you protect yourself and your family?
As with most things, the best defense is a strong offense. Understand Lyme disease, have a healthy respect for its potential severity and be proactive. When we lived in the city, and assumed we were immune, my three-year-old daughter was infected with Lyme disease while apple picking. Before I saw the rash, I thought I had a child possessed. She was cranky, irritable and generally intolerable. About 10 days after our apple picking day, I was almost relieved when I saw the rash, because I could blame her behavior on something other than bad parenting. I also knew she could be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics. She was back to normal in less than a week.
Parents, always remember kids may not be able to explain what they are feeling. If your gut tells you something isn't right, see your doctor.