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  • CBS HEALTHWATCH: "Strange Rash Causes Alarm"

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    Old 07-07-2001, 08:47 AM   #1
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    Post CBS HEALTHWATCH: "Strange Rash Causes Alarm"


    Strange Rash Causes Alarm
    10 Ill In New Jersey Town
    Affects Teens And Young Adults
    Some Sidelined From School

    (WCBS) (NEW YORK) July 5, 2001 8:30 pm
    Sixteen-year old Jimmy Nonas has a mysterious rash that looks like inflamed stretch marks. His brother, Andrew, and sister, Athena, have it, too. Extreme exhaustion and crippling pain have forced all three to leave school.

    "It's all over my stomach and on my back," he tells CBS 2's Paul Moniz. "It's all over my legs, tops of my shoulders, everywhere. My knees are killing me. I stand up and they crack and I walk and they crack."

    Doctors have been at a loss to explain the syndrome, whose symptoms also include vision loss, confusion and depression. At least 10 young people aged 14 to 23 in the rural community of West Milford, N.J., have reported the wavy red discolorations and it is causing alarm.

    "I see my children losing their whole teenage lives," mother Adora Nonas says of Jimmy, Andrew and Athena.

    "It scared me," agrees Cynde Levans, whose son has the rash. "My first reaction was to call a dermatologist."

    Most patients have been diagnosed with Lyme disease, presumably from the bite of a deer tick, but the wavy lines look nothing like the traditional bulls-eye rash characteristic of Lyme disease and despite traditional Lyme treatments, patients have been slow to improve.

    Sixteen-year-old Harrison Levans has missed two-and-half years of school, sidelined by excessive sleep and confusion.

    "Sometimes I will forget where I put my medication or sometimes I will walk into a room and forget why I am there," he says.

    Most people are aware that tick bites can be dangerous, especially in wooded areas around much of the northeast, but doctors say there are many misconceptions. For instance, Lyme disease can be difficult to detect and treat. Further, tick bites may carry more than just Lyme disease.

    Lyme specialist Dr. Richard Horowitz of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., studies deer ticks. He suspects the strange rash is somehow related to either Lyme disease or other lesser known infections. He says in addition to Lyme, deer ticks can release a bacteria that attacks white blood cells, causing an infection called ehrlichiosis.

    "It's not just Lyme disease that has entered their body," he explains. "These ticks are containing multiple organisms. I'm extremely concerned about this because these tick borne diseases are spreading."

    The ticks can also carry a parasite that invades red blood cells, causing a more serious infection known as babesiosis. Many doctors do not test for those infections.

    The parents of the sickened teens say they have been subjected to a litany of misdiagnoses.

    Sixteen-year-old Don Mobius spent 10 days in a psychiatric ward for depression actually caused by tick-borne infection. Oddly, it was Harrison Levan's mother who urged the Mobius family to get the right blood tests after spotting the wavy rash. It turned out that Don had all three of the tick borne infections.

    "She saved my son's life because she told us what was wrong with him when doctor's couldn't," Bonnie, Don's mother, says.

    Now, after receiving antibiotics and anti-malarial drugs, Don is starting to feel better. So is Harrison, who was also triple infected.

    Dr. Horowitz says the tiny deer ticks may prove much more of a hazard than anyone ever imagined.

    "There may be other viruses or other parasites that are getting into these people's blood that we don't know about at this point," he explains.

    Patient advocates are calling on Congress to set aside more money for research and treatment of Lyme-related infections. Part of the problem is that blood tests are not always reliable. Patients could still have Lyme disease or the other co-infections even with a negative test result.

    If symptoms persist, ask about DNA blood testing and make sure to see a specialist.

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