An Oklahoman is diagnosed with the tick-borne illness, despite the state's seeming denial of her condition.
SALLISAW -- A Sequoyah County woman who was diagnosed with Lyme disease last week might be an example of a dispute between physicians and the state Health Department over reporting of the tick-borne illness, authorities said.
The woman's illness likely never will be considered a confirmed case of Lyme disease by state health officials, whose statistics indicate that no one has gotten the disease in Oklahoma since 2000. "We can't confirm it (by lab) for two weeks," Sequoyah Memorial Hospital Administrator Charles Wade said. "If we wait until then and don't start treatment, we stand the chance of the disease already manifesting itself."
Kelly Reese, 42, who lives south of Sallisaw, said she was diagnosed with Lyme disease last week at the hospital's emergency room. Wade confirmed what he called a doctor's "presumptive diagnosis" of the disease, adding that Reese was quickly prescribed antibiotics. "They're being very proactive," Wade said of how some physicians deal with Lyme disease-like symptoms. "It was enough to consider that this has a good possibility of being Lyme disease, so go ahead and treat it right now." Reese complained about a large, oval-shaped welt on her left arm when she was treated by the emergency room physician, she said. One memorable detail made Reese think it was related to the gold- spotted tick her husband pulled off her that previous weekend. "It's got a bull's-eye in the middle of it," Reese said. "I just think the public needs to be aware. We got kids out playing in the grass." The state Health Department, however, requires laboratory testing before confirming cases of Lyme disease, department epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed said.
Although the department has not confirmed a case of the illness in five years, Burnsed admitted that physicians have reported diagnosing and treating patients statewide for symptoms resembling those of Lyme disease. Those diagnoses, however, are not making it into the state's data. "It's possible that cases could be occurring that are not reported," Burnsed said. "We are hearing reports of individuals experiencing symptoms similar to Lyme disease but not meeting the criteria to report it as an actual case."
This particular tick-borne disease is considered rare and almost nonexistent in Oklahoma, reports show. Burnsed pointed out that Rocky Mountain spotted fever -- with 71 reported cases last year -- is more common statewide. Lyme disease more often is diagnosed in the northeastern United States, reports show. In fact, it derives its name from the town of Lyme, Conn. The illness, caused by an infected bite from a type of deer tick, can lead to the bull's-eye-centered rash, fever and joint pain. Tick-borne illnesses can kill some individuals if left untreated with antibiotics, reports show.
Janet Segraves of Edmond is angry with the state Health Department's reporting standards for Lyme disease. Segraves, who is the founder of the Lyme Disease Support Group of Oklahoma, said she was diagnosed with the illness in 2003 -- three years after the Health Department's last confirmed case. "There's this myth in Oklahoma about Lyme disease," she said. "Some doctors think it's impossible to get it here."
Meanwhile, Reese said she was thrilled to start treatment for her illness early without waiting for a confirmation. Health experts recommend that individuals check themselves for ticks whenever they have been in the woods or around animals. If a tick is found attached to the skin, it is best removed intact with tweezers.
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