A woman, who subsequently contracted Lyme disease, shows a tick bite on her arm in this photo released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tick-borne infection is on the rise nationally.
LOUISVILLE — Authorities say Lyme disease is likely underdiagnosed in Kentucky in part because it is so rarely seen in the state.
The number of cases is rising nationally, but just five cases were reported in Kentucky in each of the past two years.
Mike Schardein, a health policy specialist for the state’s Department for Public Health, said that he believes there are several cases that haven’t been confirmed because doctors don’t usually test for it.
Lyme disease is spread by the black-legged deer tick, which is rarely seen in Kentucky. However, University of Kentucky entomologist Lee Townsend said all types of ticks emerged early this year because of the unusually warm weather.
Greater Louisville Medical Society spokeswoman Ellen Hale said that organization is drafting a policy on how to treat possible Lyme disease cases. She said there’s “a gray area” surrounding them because information from the state says the disease doesn’t exist in Kentucky.
Louisville resident Mike Gatton, who contracted Lyme disease a couple of years ago, said he ended up seeking treatment in Indiana after doctors in Kentucky told him that something else must be causing his symptoms.
Tondia Burrows, co-founder of a support group for those with the disease, said she hopes that stories like Gatton’s show the disease is a threat in the state.
“We are here. So why can’t the deer tick be here, too?” she said.
Early symptoms of the disease include a fever, headache and fatigue, which can be accompanied by a rash. If not treated, the disease can cause arthritis or spread to the heart and nervous system.
Dr. Paul Schulz, a Norton infectious disease specialist in Louisville, said a tick bite doesn’t mean that a person will get Lyme disease.
“For the 10 I’ve treated, I’ve seen 10 times as many people who think they have Lyme” but don’t, Schulz said.