CDC: Lyme disease may be frequently misdiagnosed

Lyme disease is a potentially serious illness that is spread by deer ticks. It can range from flu-like symptoms to permanent conditions like arthritis, numbness and paralysis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, officially speaking, there are around 30,000 cases of Lyme disease in the country each year, including several in Illinois. The state reported 200 diagnoses in 2012

We say “offiically” because, according to the CDC, that figure may wildly understate the acutal number of cases. The agency says that the real number of people getting Lyme disease each year could be up to 10 times higher.

The CDC has several theories why Lyme disease could be so badly underreported. One possible reason is misdiagnosis by doctors who mistake the disease for another illness. Though Lyme disease typically includes a target-shaped rash around the bite, not all cases have this symptom. Doctors sometimes misdiagnose Lyme disease as arthritis or multiple sclerosis.

As Lyme disease becomes more common in Illinois, misdiagnosis may become more frequent as well. This could lead to the illness being mistreated. Patients could develop long-term or permanent disabilities like Bell’s palsy, arthritis or deafness. “It’s a huge problem,” the founder of the Lyme Support Network said of the failure to diagnose Lyme disease.

Fortunately, most of the time it can be successfully treated with antibiotics. People can also take steps to avoid Lyme disease by wearing long pants, sleeves, a hat and bug repellent when going into a woody or grassy area. You should also check for ticks and take a shower within a couple of hours.

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Lyme disease on rise in Illinois,” Robert McCoppin, Aug. 22, 2013

Failure to Diagnose


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