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Lyme disease is caused by the bite of an infected black legged or deer tick.
The infection can be treated with antibiotics, but unless it’s caught early, it can cause serious, long-lasting side effects like joint pain and fatigue.
But new research may someday help doctors with a reliable diagnosis very early on.
When Carrie Perry takes Roxy out to play, she gets a rubdown with tick repellent. There’s no way Carrie wants to risk a tick inside her home. That’s because Perry’s daughter Samantha had a three-year long battle with Lyme disease starting in December of her sophomore year.
Carrie Perry, Sam’s Mom said, “Three-day high fever, neck ache, headache, but then it resolved.“
But a few weeks later, Sam began feeling exhausted. The competitive athlete kept going, despite joint pain and nausea.
In about 70 percent of the cases, patients develop a bullseye-shaped rash. Sam had no rash, so Lyme was overlooked, for seven months.
UCF Microbiologist Mollie Jewett says there’s a window of time after a tick bite when the infection is difficult to detect.
Mollie W. Jewett, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Division Head of Immunity and Pathogenesis, Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, UCF College of Medicine: “As the infection persists longer and longer over time those bacteria can move from that tick bite site to different places in the body.“
Jewett and her team are researching how the bacteria evades the immune system. They’re developing a new diagnostic test of a patient’s blood for the very early presence of the bacteria.
After Sam’s diagnosis, she took antibiotics, but it was eight weeks of hyperbaric oxygen therapy that finally did the trick. She’s now a college junior studying abroad in Spain. Recovered after years of agony.
Carrie Perry said, “People don’t understand Lyme. They don’t understand what one tick can do to a person.“
Jewett’s lab is working with engineers at UCF to develop a Lyme detection module that could sit in a doctor’s office, but says the device is still several years away.