Vt. Health Dept.: Franklin County resident dies of rare Lyme carditis

By Kit Norton

A Franklin County resident has died of Lyme carditis, a rare complication of tick-borne Lyme disease that affects the heart, the Centers for Disease Control has determined.

It’s the first reported death due to Lyme carditis in Vermont. The CDC reports that in the last 30 years there have only been nine cases of fatal Lyme carditis in the United States.

The death was announced in a statement from Vermont’s Health Department. The name and gender of the person who died, and other details about the case, was not released for confidentiality reasons.

People with Lyme carditis may show the classic symptoms of Lyme disease: fever, body aches, and skin rash. But nationally, only about 1 percent of all Lyme cases evolve into Lyme carditis.

Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said when Lyme disease is contracted, “it comes through the bite of the tick and the organism gets into your bloodstream and then it spreads throughout your body.”

Lyme carditis occurs when the bacteria that causes Lyme disease travels to the heart and interferes with its regular functions. It can cause the heart to beat erratically, and in extremely rare cases causes death.

The announcement of a confirmed death due to a Lyme disease complication comes a month after mosquitoes in Springfield tested positive for the West Nile virus. A CDC report in May said that between 2004 and 2016, nine new germs spread by mosquitoes and ticks were introduced to the United States, affecting more than 600,000 people.

In that 12-year span, Vermont had 6,161 reported illnesses caused by tick-borne diseases. In 2017, there were already 1,100 reported cases, putting Vermont on pace to match its previous 12-year total in half the time.

Levine said that as long as Lyme disease and Lyme carditis are caught early, they can be treated effectively with antibiotics. But he advised people to avoid becoming infected in the first place, by practicing a strict regimen of self-care tick checks after spending time outdoors.

“We want the lesson to be not that you should be scared,” he said, “but the lesson is to be careful outside and to practice Lyme prevention.”

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