Maryland consistently ranks as one of the top states for Lyme Disease cases, but what steps are being taken to research the disease and educate the public?
It is the most common tick-borne infection in the United States, and it can be difficult to identify.
“It is really hard to do research on it,” said Dr. John Aucott, director of the Johns Hopkins Rheumatology Lyme Disease Center.
Dr. Aucott has studied Lyme Disease for the last 10 years, and focuses on diagnostic testing and health-related outcomes.
“Diagnostic tests are the key starting place for research, because if you can not measure or diagnose the illness, it is very hard to understand treatment…and it is also very hard to understand how to develop new treatments,” Dr. Aucott added.
There is only one main test to diagnose Lyme Disease, which is based on antibody response to see if a person’s immune system recognizes the infection.
“They are useful as a way to see if your immune system recognizes the infection, and that can be used to support the diagnoses,” Dr. Aucott explained. “But there is a big flaw.”
That flaw is that the test does not actually measure the bacteria itself.
“Patients can not benefit from a cultural test, so we are looking for other ways to directly measure the bacteria,” Dr. Aucott stated.
The Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center is just one of many that are searching for solutions, but doctors are currently lacking the clinical tools to deal with the epidemic.
“We need ways to measure and predict who is going to remain ill after their initial therapy,” Dr. Aucott said.
Dr. Ibukun Akinboyo, a pediatric physician, said that half of the patients that come in talk about Lyme Disease, and that is where the education effort begins.
“Physicians within infectious disease are doing a lot of making sure the information that is out there is clinically correct, it is at the level that most people can understand it and if people have questions, they know where you get resources from,” Dr. Akinboyo explained.
Resources include your local health department, your doctor and state and federal websites.
The Maryland Department of Health’s Lyme Disease website shares medical education modules and material to help people recognize and manage the disease. This includes a brochure called, “Maryland, Get Ticked Off,” and a poster that details how to look for a bullseye rash to help detect tick bites.
“The key way to catch it earlier is not to miss the round, red skin lesion or rash that occurs at the site of the tick bite,” Dr. Aucott said.
He added that 85 percent of patients come in during the summer months.