NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Lyme disease is epidemic in the U.S. with as many as 400,000 cases a year, and this is prime outdoor season – when many people are likely to get bitten by a tick.
CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez has just been diagnosed with Lyme disease himself.
In the Northeast, where Lyme-infected ticks are endemic, you are going to get bitten by a tick sooner or later unless you live in a bubble. There is just no foolproof way to avoid getting a tick bite, and if you do get bitten, you may get Lyme.
Dr. Gomez spends a lot of time outdoors – hiking, biking and playing golf, sometimes in the rough.
He takes precautions such as wearing long pants, spraying DEET insect repellent, and checking for ticks – but somehow, at least one tick bit him recently.
So for the past few weeks, and maybe a couple of months, he has had a dull headache on and off, and especially a lot of fatigue, stiffness and achy joints.
Putting all those symptoms together, he started to suspect Lyme. He asked his doctor for a blood test this week, and less than 24 hours later, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum of Northwell Health Lenox Hill Hospital pointed out the test results.
“In your situation, the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) was grossly positive and abnormal. Btu the western blot was equivocal, and it becomes very important to combine your clinical symptoms — how you feel — with these blood tests in order to make the diagnosis,” Steinbaum said.
Right away, Gomez started on the standard antibiotic treatment, doxycycline, for 14 to 21 days.
“The studies generally show 90 percent of patients do very well with that, and maybe 10 percent six months later are still struggling with some symptoms,” Gomez said. “But the vast majority of patients do very well. They don’t get better right away, though, so it takes a while for the full benefits to be seen.”
Fallon also said the sooner you start antibiotics, the more effective they are. But that is the problem – unless you see a tick bite or a rash, you may not suspect Lyme and go undiagnosed for a long time because the symptoms are a lot like the flu or a bad cold.
Gomez said he did not see a tick or a rash himself. Many people never see a tick, and as many as half of all Lyme patients either never get a rash – bullseye or otherwise – or get it in a spot they don’t see.
For that reason, Dr. Fallon said if you spend an time outdoors and have symptoms such as fatigue and achiness, get a blood test.
Gomez also warned that you can get Lyme disease more than once – it is a bacterial infection rather than a virus like mononucleosis or chickenpox. He will still have to spray himself and really check for ticks.