Doctors warning parents about misdiagnosing Lyme disease

Tick season is here and with it a new warning for parents from local doctors about Lyme disease being diagnosed as other health problems.

Dawn Oates' three kids were all diagnosed with Lyme disease. Her medicine cabinet is now filled with a variety of antibiotics and other medications to treat tickborne illnesses.

"They all present in different ways, if you're looking for one hard and fast way that typically identifies that your child has Lyme, sadly there really isn't one way," Oates said.

It started five years ago when she found a tick on her son Jack.  She couldn't see if there was a bullseye rash because it was on his head, so she took him to the pediatrician.

"I showed her the tick, I showed her the place he was bitten, and she was pretty dismissive of it," she said.

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It wasn't long after that Jack started acting and feeling different.  He started waking up with drenching night sweats.

"At this point, I decided we needed to see a new pediatrician and I took him to a Lyme specialist and he tested positive for multiple tickborne illnesses," Oates said.

She decided as a precaution to have her other kids tested even though they didn't show typical signs for Lyme.

"And it turns out they all had it," she said. "Ticks are like Mother Nature's dirty needle, you can get a lot of things from a tick."

Dr. David Crandell is medical director at the Dean Center for Tick-Borne Illness located at Spaulding Rehab in Charlestown.  It's the first rehab and research program in the country to focus on improving the lives of people infected with tick-borne diseases.

Currently, the Dean Center is only seeing adult patients and the demand is high to just get on the waitlist.  They're hoping soon to help treat children for tickborne illnesses in the future.

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Crandell says parents need to be on high alert for Lyme disease as we head into tick season.

"It's really hard as a parent to know is this a viral illness they picked up at school or is this Lyme disease," he said.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the majority of tickborne infections occur during the months of June through August and are most frequently diagnosed in children and older adults.

Crandell says a bullseye rash is a sure sign of Lyme disease, but many times it can be misdiagnosed as something else. Fever, joint aches, and malaise are all symptoms of Lyme disease.

He says testing is helpful, but an early diagnosis can be difficult.

"Some of the challenges with Lyme disease is that most of the testing relies on antibody response, so some of the early testings actually may be negative," said Crandell. "There's a perception that if it's quickly identified and treated you'll have a successful outcome.  The reality is that there's a subset of individuals who even with appropriate medical care may go onto have lasting effects."

That's why prevention is key. Oates says that her kids' clothes are sprayed with repellant when they go outside, and tick checks happen regularly.

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"This experience has taken the joy of the outdoors for me," she said. "This disease if you don't catch it early and treat it, will haunt you and haunt you for the rest of your days."

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