Tracking Down Lyme Disease in Arkansas

UAMS Tick Study Seeks Specimens

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Lyme disease advocates have long believed the disease is under-reported in Arkansas. But state health officials stand behind their next-to-none incident rates.

Now, researchers at UAMS are trying to get a more accurate count and they need the public's help.

Growing up in rural Saline County, Lori Lynn Sikes knows the woods well.

"I was about 7 years old and I all of a sudden started getting ill," explains the Lyme disease advocate.

Lori also knows they're a hotbed for ticks.

"Since then, I've found out that I do have Lyme disease and another tick-borne illness," she continues.

The Lyme disease patient is also a disease advocate and while out educating people, she says she's noticed the number of reported cases don't seem to add up.

"Between 150-200 people that I've personally connected with in Arkansas have Lyme disease, that have a doctor treating them for Lyme disease," Lori adds.

But while Arkansas ranks high for overall tick-borne illnesses, its Lyme numbers are next-to-nothing. According to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), there have been only two confirmed cases of the disease since 2012 that meet the CDC's definition.

"Most, if not all, of the state's diseases are probably underreported since our reporting system is passive (we rely on doctors to send us reports). We recently had CDC here to review our last two years of Lyme data and preliminarily they feel we are correctly classifying cases with no significant level of disease located in Arkansas. We have been planning the CDC’s visit for some time, so even before the classifying of the two new cases we made it a priority to review our data," adds Meg Mirivel, ADH Public Information Officer..

"We have deer ticks galore and I really believe we have Lyme disease galore," says Lori.

It's a discrepancy researchers at UAMS may soon be able to explain.

"What we may actually figure out is while we may not have classical Lyme caused by typical strain, we may have some unique strain we don't understand or haven't identified," adds Dr. John Blevins, UAMS researcher.

Dr. Blevins is one of the scientists conducting what you might call a "tick census." He and his team are asking Arkansans to submit tick samples they find on themselves or their animals.

"We're really hoping we can get as many samples from across the state as possible," he continues.

Lyme patients like Lori hope people will step up.

"It's really simple, doesn't cost anything. If one comes in on a dog, it's easy to put in a bag and send it," she says.

In some cases, the UAMS research team is also going out to properties to collect some ticks, but they have limited manpower.

They are ready to start accepting specimen donations.

Click here for instructions on how you can help.

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