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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Diagnostic challenges of early Lyme disease: Lessons from a community case series

John Aucott1*, Candis Morrison2, Beatriz Munoz3, Peter C Rowe4, Alison Schwarzwalder2 and Sheila K West3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

2 Lyme Disease Research Foundation of Maryland, Lutherville, Maryland, USA

3 Dana Center for Preventive Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

4 Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:79  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-79

Published: 1 June 2009

Abstract

Background

Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne infection in North America, is increasingly reported. When the characteristic rash, erythema migrans, is not recognized and treated, delayed manifestations of disseminated infection may occur. The accuracy of diagnosis and treatment of early Lyme disease in the community is unknown.

Methods

A retrospective, consecutive case series of 165 patients presenting for possible early Lyme disease between August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2007 to a community-based Lyme referral practice in Maryland. All patients had acute symptoms of less than or equal to 12 weeks duration. Patients were categorized according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria and data were collected on presenting history, physical findings, laboratory serology, prior diagnoses and prior treatments.

Results

The majority (61%) of patients in this case series were diagnosed with early Lyme disease. Of those diagnosed with early Lyme disease, 13% did not present with erythema migrans; of those not presenting with a rash, 54% had been previously misdiagnosed. Among those with a rash, the diagnosis of erythema migrans was initially missed in 23% of patients whose rash was subsequently confirmed. Of all patients previously misdiagnosed, 41% had received initial antibiotics likely to be ineffective against Lyme disease.

Conclusion

For community physicians practicing in high-risk geographic areas, the diagnosis of Lyme disease remains a challenge. Failure to recognize erythema migrans or alternatively, viral-like presentations without a rash, can lead to missed or delayed diagnosis of Lyme disease, ineffective antibiotic treatment, and the potential for late manifestations.