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December 8, 1997

Erythema Migrans—like Rash Illness at a Camp in North Carolina: A New Tick-Borne Disease?

Arch Intern Med. 1997;157(22):2635-2641. doi:10.1001/archinte.1997.00440430117014

Background:  Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, has never been isolated from a patient thought to have acquired Lyme disease in any southeastern state.

Objective:  To investigate 14 cases of an erythema migrans (EM)—like rash illness that occurred during 2 summers at an outdoor camp in central North Carolina in an effort to determine the etiologic, epidemiological, and clinical aspects of this illness.

Methods:  Using active surveillance, we identified cases of clinically diagnosed EM in residents and staff of the camp. We collected clinical and demographic information; history of exposure to ticks; acute and convalescent serum antibodies to B burgdorferi, Rickettsia rickettsii, and Ehrlichia chaffeensis; and cultures for spirochetes from biopsy specimens of skin lesions. Serum samples from a group of residents and staff who did not develop rashes were tested for the same antibodies. We speciated ticks removed from people and collected from vegetation.

Results:  We identified 14 cases of EM-like rash illness during the 2 summers. Of the 14 case-patients, 10 had associated mild systemic symptoms and 1 had documented fever. All 14 case-patients had removed attached ticks, and 8 remembered having removed a tick from the site where the rash developed a median of 12 days earlier (range, 2-21 days). One tick removed from the site where a rash later developed was identified as Amblyomma americanum, the Lone Star tick; 97% of ticks collected from vegetation and 95% of ticks removed from people were A americanum. No spirochetes were isolated from skin biopsy specimens. Paired serum samples from 13 case-patients did not show diagnostic antibody responses to B burgdorferi or other tick-borne pathogens.

Conclusions:  This investigation suggests the existence of a new tick-associated rash illness. We suspect that the disease agent is carried by A americanum ticks. In the southern United States, EM-like rash illness should no longer be considered definitive evidence of early Lyme disease.Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:2635-2641

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