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  • Why is Lyme disease on the rise?

  • The booming deer population may be to blame.Theories abound, but the consensus is that the explosion of the deer population is partially to blame. Others believe the growth of suburban development into rural areas and the ban on the pesticide DDT may also bear some responsibility. A simpler explanation is the nearly imperceptible size of the culprit.

    Two decades after its discovery, Lyme disease remains a mystery and is the source of controversy among the medical community. "Because of the lack of data, there are many opinions about diagnosis and treatment," says Rhode Island Hospital internist Wendy Clough, MD, whose patients are among the late-stage cases and the most difficult to treat. "The lab tests are not definitive. The symptoms don't appear in all patients or they may appear at different phases during the illness. Misdiagnosis is very much a problem for these patients."

    One of the most insidious aspects of Lyme disease is the way it mimics other diseases. Long-term flu symptoms may suggest chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. A tell-tale rash in the shape of a bull's eye appears in only 50 to 70 percent of those infected and may not flare up for weeks after a tick attack, a bite so small most people never even notice it. Complaints run the gamut from swollen joints to chest pains that send people to the emergency room fearing a heart attack.

    Treating the disease