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Veterinarian Hopes To Spread Word About Detection Of Lyme Disease

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RALEIGH — North Carolina ranks 18th in the country for Lyme disease cases. One woman struggled to get the diagnosis and help she needed to fight her disease.

Dr. Beth Jordan is used to treating sick animals, but she was not prepared for the mysterious illness that hit her three years ago. Dr. Jordan saw one doctor after another.

"[I was] just feeling like I had the worst flu that I had ever had multiplied by 1,000," she says. "I was told I had chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, some type of viral infection and even told by one doctor that it was all in my head."

A specialist in New York finally made the diagnosis. She had lyme disease.

"[It was] like a 1,000-pound weight had been lifted off my back. I was very relieved, sad, angry a little bit," she says.

Jordan was relieved to know what she had, but she was angry that it had taken so long.

For years, residents in North Carolina had to worry less about Lyme disease than about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever which, like Lyme disease, is transmitted by ticks. But now, cases of Lyme disease are popping up.

"While I'm convinced I've personally seen cases here, it's a relatively unusual disease in North Carolina and certainly nothing like in places like Connecticut, Cape Cod, where as many as 30 percent of the population have been infected," says UNC infectious disease expert Dr. David Weber.

However, the numbers in North Carolina are rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control between 1994 and 1998, there were 324 cases of Lyme disease in North Carolina. During that same time period, there were 633 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Last year, there were 46 cases of Lyme disease.

Editors note those numbers are "likely the tip of the iceberg."

"A physician does need to be aware that it [Lyme Disease] does occasionally occur in North Carolina," Weber says.

Dr. Jordan believes her experience made her a better doctor and taught her the value of listening to her clients.

"Because somewhere in something they say may lead me to a diagnosis," she says.

Since ticks have to feed for a while to transmit disease, remove any ticks from your skin as soon as possible. If you notice a rash or flu-like symptoms develop, call your doctor immediately.

As for the Lyme disease vaccine, unless you spend a great deal of time outdoors, working or hiking, you probably do not need to worry about it.