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It's Better to be a Dog: Lyme Disease Forum


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Syracuse, New York. Lyme disease is diagnosed more readily and responded to differently in animal health compared to human health. Two veterinarians and two experts on tick-borne disease in people spoke on September 10 at this unusual Forum.  It was unusual because, though it makes sense for medical professionals on the animal and human side to share information, forums like this one are infrequent.

About 100 people attended the event, including veterinarians, veterinary technicians, physicians, researchers and nurses and even people living with tick disease.

Dr. Richard Ford, professor emeritus at the College of Veterinary Medicine North Carolina State, Raleigh began with an appropriately honest statement which is identical on the human side, “When it comes to Lyme disease, there are more questions than answers,” he said.

Though symptoms in dogs and people are thought to be mostly different, Dr. David Cameron, who has researched and treated Lyme in people for 28-years, says they may be more similar than we think.

Classically, people with Lyme might have aching joints. The same is true with dogs, and they act lame – sometimes one leg, and at other times another leg (called transient lameness). Other identical symptoms are a fever, and acting generally depressed.  Ford said that there are no apparent symptoms in about 80 percent of dogs testing positive for Lyme.

However, maybe there’s more to it than that, according to Cameron. Other symptoms in people may merely be difficult to identify in dogs, including headaches, general achiness, confusion, dizziness and subtle neurological signs. “If only dogs could talk,” Cameron said.

Of course, they can’t talk – so veterinarians are more dependent on testing than is the case in human medicine.

“We see that blue dot, (by using the IDEXX lab blood test which quickly detects the presence of the antibody responding to Lyme infection with a blue dot), we may want to treat, especially if there are no clinical signs (symptoms),” Ford said. If treatment is pursued, immediately a course of antibiotics is prescribed.

Cameron, who is also the co-author on human Lyme Disease Management Guidelines, noted confirmation of Lyme, and corresponding treatment aren’t so clear cut in human medicine – though some Lyme patients in the crowd suggested they wish treatment in human medicine could be as proactive as veterinary medicine.

Susan Wong, research scientist at the New York State Department of Heath Wadsworth Center, Division of Infectious Diseases and professor State University of New York Department of Public Health, Albany said, “People may say the screening tests (for Lyme) are awful; I say they’re only awful if practitioners don’t know how to use them. Testing immediately after infection isn’t as effective as waiting or re-testing. Also, there are invalidated tests out there.”

Cameron doesn’t exactly agree, and suggested, “Lyme is clearly a missed diagnosis in human medicine – and people suffer as a result. We treat fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome without a specific test. Why not Lyme?”

How sluggish has human medicine been to respond to Lyme compared to veterinary medicine? While veterinarians are treating, human doctors waver about testing or treating because of insurance issues, which Cameron says is sometimes overstated. But he agreed that some doctors (particularly in places where Lyme is only now becoming more common) don’t know exactly what to do. Practitioners are also more hesitant about dispensing antibiotics because concerns regarding antibiotic resistance. He added, complicating matters “there’s no one magic antibiotic that works for everyone.”

What’s clear is that Lyme disease is on the rise, as veterinarians – including the Companion Animal Parasite Council, have warned for years.

Finally, in 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that Lyme disease is three times more common in people than the agency previously reported. In fact, looking at those numbers more carefully, it’s turns out that there are more people diagnosed new cases of Lyme than colon or breast cancer or HIV. Of course, this isn’t counting Lyme cases not diagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Ford says though testing in dogs is quite good – the disease sometimes goes undiagnosed in dogs as well.

Confounding matters further in both people and in dogs is co-infection. Wong says that in one study from 2011 of 2,204 Lyme infections, over a 1,400 people were also infected by babesiosis or anaplasmosis, two other tick-borne diseases.

Dr. Andrew Eschner, field services veterinarian (in Gansevoort, NY) at Merial (a pet pharmaceutical company), noted just how numerous and worrisome deer ticks are; how Lyme infection in people and dogs essentially cloaks itself, Star Trek-style, to become somewhat invisible to the immune system.

Eschner says that the good news is that it takes the deer tick (also called black legged tick) at least 48 hours and up 72 hours to transmit Lyme. So, immediate removal of ticks can be effective to prevent infection.

Dogs have the benefit of veterinary products which incapacitate ticks, preventing most disease transmission.  And there are Lyme vaccines available for dogs, and one vaccine is non-adjuvanted (adjuvants are supplementary additives that help vaccines to do what they’re supposed to), arguably making it the most refined and targeted on the market

When dog owners are proactive about protecting their pet, tick disease can be prevented in nearly every case. So, to avoid tick diseases, such as Lyme, it might be better to be a dog.

©Steve Dale Pet World, LLC; Tribune Content Agency

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