The Lyme-disease infection rate is growing. So is the battle over how to treat it
The disease is carried by the black-legged tick, now found as far south as Florida. Photograph by Kenji Aoki.
Kaleigh Ahern was twelve years old when a tick bit her. She noticed it “perched” on her shoulder when she was taking a shower one morning. “I thought it was your average, everyday bug,” Ahern told me recently. But, when she tried to brush it off, the tick wouldn’t budge. “The legs wiggled but it was embedded in my skin. I freaked out and started screaming.” Kaleigh’s mother, Holly Ahern, came running and removed it. “I took the kid and the tick to the doctor,” she said. “I told him, Here is my kid, here is the tick, and there is the place where it was attached to her.” That was in 2002. The Aherns live near Saratoga Springs, New York, where Lyme disease has been endemic for years. The infection is transmitted by tick bites, so Ahern assumed that the doctor would prescribe a prophylactic dose of antibiotics. But he said that he wasn’t going to treat it. “If a rash develops or she starts to have flulike symptoms, bring her back,” he told her. At the time, Ahern, an associate professor of microbiology at SUNY Adirondack, didn’t know much about tick-borne illnesses. She took Kaleigh home and watched for the signature symptom of Lyme disease: a rash that begins with a bright-red bull’s-eye around the tick bite.
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