August 19, 2013

Augusta doctor sees uptick in Lyme disease worries

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — When Dr. Michael Szela, of Augusta, first started practicing nearly three decades ago, having a patient come in worried about disease from a tick bite was rare.

These days, he gets two or three people a week afraid a tick bite has given them Lyme disease.

Some of his patients have had so many fear-inducing run-ins with ticks that Szela has given them refillable prescriptions for a two-pill treatment of the antibiotic doxycycline, which can be effective in preventing Lyme disease if given within a few days of a tick bite.

"I've had a couple of cases (of Lyme disease) locally," Szela, a family doctor at Capital Family Practice in Augusta. "And I'm seeing an awful lot of people with tick bites. They're around a lot more than they used to be."

He said he's been told warmer winters have resulted in more ticks surviving, so more of them are around.

Szela said people are so aware of the possibility of getting Lyme disease from a tick that many of them come in early for treatment. He noted if people get a tick off of them within about 48 hours, their risk of getting Lyme is "almost zero."

That's because, within that time frame, a tick is not yet capable of infecting a person.

Szela said for most patients with a tick bite, he doesn't often have tests done to confirm whether they're infected with Lyme disease, because it would take three to four weeks for the test to show positive Lyme results. By that time, if Lyme is suspected, you're already treating it anyway, he said.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include a rash, sometimes but not always bull's-eye-shaped, in an area near where a person had a tick bite; as well as joint aches, headaches, fever, neurological symptoms and paralysis of one side of the face.

"It can be quite severe if it goes unchecked," Szela said.

He said a company, for a time, offered a Lyme vaccine for people, much as dogs can now receive a Lyme vaccine. However, the company that offered it later withdrew it from the market, in 2002.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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