Lyme disease is believed to have caused the deaths of three people in the Northeast. They all died suddenly within the past 13 months and had an unobserved heart inflammation that was caused by Lyme disease. This shows that according to a federal study, deaths resulting from the Lyme disease microorganisms of deer ticks may be more common than was previously believed.
The research study was started by a doctor working in a tissue bank. He discovered an abnormal pattern of heart inflammation in a Massachusetts man who was found dead in his car after an accident a year ago. Testing revealed the individual was suffering from unrecognized Lyme disease. That most likely led to him suffering cardiac and his car to run off the highway.
He and two other patients, from Connecticut and New York, were between the ages of 25 and 38, researchers stated on Thursday. None of them were known have had Lyme disease before they passed away.
Before these deaths, there had been only four other demises previously attributed to heart inflammation that was caused by Lyme disease. However it appears the infection is becoming a rising problem in the United States, predominantly in New England.
Officials located at the U.S. Center for Disease Control declare that they are extremely troubled by the current cases, but their examinations have so far shown that deaths from Lyme disease heart complications are still extremely uncommon.
Dr. Joseph D. Forrester, who is a CDC scientist and one of the authors of the research paper printed in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, stated that it is very important to investigate all these cases because of the severity of what occurred and the heartbreak of three young people to die so unexpectedly.
The CDC is advising people in the Northeast and also other areas that have a high frequency rate of Lyme disease to see a doctor as soon as possible if they begin to have chest pain, light-headedness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath or fainting, along with the more commonly known Lyme disease symptoms of rash, body aches and fever.
There are about 300,000 cases of Lyme disease every year in the United States, with most cases happening in New England. It is believed that only around one percent of Lyme disease patients come down with severe heart inflammation, which is known as carditis. It is curable if the person is given the correct antibiotics in time. In very extreme cases, some have to have pacemaker implanted. However the main fact remains that otherwise strong young people who had no noteworthy symptoms could just die so unpredictably from undiagnosed cases of Lyme disease. Those facts are what are so troubling to health officials.
Such a discovery has made people nervous, said Catherine M. Brown, who is a Massachusetts public health veterinarian and another research study author. She said the deaths highlight the need to stop the spread of Lyme disease in the first place and to be able to identify it quickly so that patients are able to receive the correct treatment.
The three deaths happened between November of 2012 and July of this year. Health officials did not name any of the victims. The investigation started after the man from Massachusetts was found unresponsive. He showed no signs of trauma, and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. He had been an organ donor, so his heart was removed and sent to a tissue processing and medical device company in Georgia that arrange for heart patches and valves and patches to be available for various types of cardiac surgeries.
CDC officials stated the young man had shown signs of having early coronary artery disease, but it was unknown if that caused an increase in risk for his death or not.
There was a pathology examination done on the man’s heart, and this was where the doctor saw the odd inflammation pattern around the heart. They were similar to features he had noticed in biopsies taken of people who had Lyme disease when he was working in New York.
But the man had no Lyme disease history. The CDC was called in, and tests showed the man had recently become infected by the bacteria that caused Lyme disease.
A transplant was stopped. When CDC officials spoke with one of the deceased man’s relatives, the person stated that the man had complained of muscle and joint pain about two weeks before he passed away. He lived by himself, except for a dog that commonly had ticks, the report stated. The CDC believed the man’s heart inflammation triggered his cardiac arrest while he was driving.
About eight months later, the tissue doctor was inspecting another heart. This one had come from a New York resident who died at home in July of this year. He saw the exact same kind of pattern and again called the CDC. Again more tests were done and they also showed an early case of Lyme disease. The patient, who had a diagnosed heart irregularity that seldom ever caused death, was reported to be an avid hiker, but did not have any known tick contact.
CDC officials then began investigating other unexplained deaths. The discovered a Connecticut inhabitant who had died while visiting New Hampshire in July of this year as well. The person had complained of both shortness of breath and also anxiety in the week before dying. That person had resided in an extremely wooded area which ticks prefer, had been prescribed anxiety medicine one day before death. Tests again showed this third individual was infected with Lyme disease bacteria.
The person from Connecticut had a cornea transplanted before the Lyme disease bacteria was found, but the recipient ended up dying of unrelated causes. The New York resident had both corneas transplanted into two different individuals, but neither of them reported any symptoms of Lyme disease. However, they were treated with antibiotics just as a precaution.
Physicians who study Lyme disease feel much more information will be needed about the frequency of heart inflammation deaths. Dr. John Aucott, who is an infectious disease expert located in Maryland, explained it was possible the group of deaths so close together could have been only a statistical glitch, but it might also show the beginning of a virulent strain of Lyme disease bacteria which could prefer the heart muscle.
The CDC does not yet think it is a change in the make-up of Lyme disease, or the emergence of a new strain, but they admit testing is continuing.
Dr. Stanley Plotkin, who is a pediatrics professor at the University of Pennsylvania and is also a vaccine specialist, exclaimed that the research study shows a major need for a vaccine to be created to fight against Lyme disease.
Plotkin’s son Alec collapsed back in August of 2005 just outside Philadelphia while he was taking his dog for a walk. A vigilant physician, who was working at the hospital Alec was rushed to, realized he had Lyme disease and was able to successfully treat him with both antibiotics and also a pacemaker.
Plotkin declared he thought it was unconscionable and a complete shame to all public health departments, vaccine manufacturers and Lyme disease advocates that there is no Lyme disease vaccine available for human use while there is one on the market for dogs.
To help with prevention until a vaccine is available; all health-care providers should be asking patients who could have Lyme disease about any cardiac symptoms they might be experiencing. There should be an electrocardiogram if the need shows itself. On the other hand, patients who have inexplicable heart blockages after possible exposure to infected ticks need to taken care of immediately. Doctors also need to remind patients of ways to prevent Lyme disease infection, which include using bug repellent, daily tick checks, and quick showering after possible exposure.
These prevention types can hopefully help others not to succumb to cardiac arrest from Lyme disease. Also too, hopefully a vaccine is soon to be on the market.
By Kimberly Ruble