CDC Warns About Rare Lyme Disease Complication

By Desirée Taylor
Senior Correspondent

December may not be the height of tick season, but experts say there’s still a concern any time of the year because they can spread Lyme disease.

“It can be a serious disease. That usually happens when the disease is not recognized. Sometimes there’s no rash. The disease can progress without any treatment available. And that’s when you can see other complications from the disease,” explained Dr. Jeremias Murillo, chief medical officer at Newark Beth Israel.

One rare complication is a heart infection called “Lyme carditis.” A CDC report showed three people died from it. None were from New Jersey.

“We do suspect it’s rare. But given fact of the untimely death of these young people, we thought it was important to investigate them,” said CDC expert Dr. Joseph Forrester.

The three people who died are from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York state. All were relatively young — in their 20s and 30s. And none had been treated for Lyme disease. But the symptoms aren’t always severe and sometimes don’t surface at all.

“There are some infections, no rash, 20 percent no rash. Infection spreads, get meningitis. Also affect the skin,” Murillo said. “The symptoms of Lyme carditis are light headiness, shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting and can include common Lyme disease like rash, fever, muscle and joint pain.”

The CDC wants to raise awareness about Lyme carditis, but officials point out it is rare.

“Lyme carditis among all patients reported is rare. About 1 percent of patients have Lyme carditis. We think sudden cardiac death associated with Lyme carditis is even more rare,” Forrester said.

Effective treatments are available for most cases of Lyme disease and other tick-born illnesses, provided prompt medical care is sought from doctors who are familiar with the disease. There were more than 2,700 confirmed cases in New Jersey last year and no deaths. People most at risk live or frequent wooded areas where ticks can get on your clothes. Experts recommend removing them with tweezers.