Lyme disease a difficult, common diagnosis in Europe
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 30, 2009
Influenza and sexually transmitted viruses are the two most common diseases at U.S. military medical clinics in Europe.
Lyme disease is No. 3.
Common in parts of the States — especially the Northeast — the tick-borne disease is prevalent in parts of Europe, according to Col. Eric Shuping, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine-Europe. August and September are prime months for the spread of the disease.
"It’s more likely in Germany, but possible elsewhere," Shuping said in a recent telephone interview.
He said around 50 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each year at military clinics in Europe. A report issued by the CHPPM in June included an estimate of about 60,000 cases annually among the German population.
Though the disease isn’t rare, it can be difficult for doctors to diagnose, especially if patients aren’t aware they’ve been bitten or don’t mention that fact to the doctor, Shuping said. Caught early, the disease is treatable with a series of antibiotics.
Often, large rashes initially develop around the bite. Early symptoms can include fevers or chills. If treatment isn’t provided, more serious problems can develop that are also sometimes hard to spot, Shuping said.
The best way to combat Lyme disease is to avoid areas where ticks are often present — such as places with overgrown weeds or brush.
According to Shuping, the belief that ticks drop from trees onto people is a myth. "So sticking to paths in forests should be fairly safe," he said. "We don’t want people to stay inside and not experience nature in Europe because of this."
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention suggests wearing light clothing so that ticks can more easily be spotted and removed before they bite. Other suggestions include tucking pant legs into socks, wearing long sleeves and hats and putting DEET on exposed skin.
Anyone who is bitten should try to remove the tick as soon as possible. It’s believed that the longer a tick is attached, the more likely it is to transmit the disease. According to CHPPM, the best way is to apply tweezers against the tick’s mouth and gradually work it free.
"If you have a rash after a tick bite, it’s probably a good idea to see a doctor," Shuping said.
Initial symptoms of Lyme disease:
Circular, expanding rash that clears in the center in 70 to 80 percent of patients
Muscle, joint ache
Swollen lymph nodes
Loss of muscle tone in one or both sides of face
Above: A lab technician at the Entomological Sciences Division at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center looks at a tick sent in by a health clinic in Mannheim for identification. Top: Up close and personal with the insect that medical officials say carries Lyme disease and encephalitis.
PHOTOS BY BEN BLOKER/STARS AND STRIPES