Skin-fection of the year:
Lyme Disease

Adam Lambert wasn’t the only breakout star of the last twelve months.  2009 was also the year of Borrelia Burgdorferi.  Not a household name?  Maybe that’s because the bacteria that causes Lyme disease gets picked up outside the home.


Lyme disease has lurked just outside the media spotlight for years.  Singer Daryl Hall was diagnosed in 2005 and continues to suffer symptoms.  Have you heard of singer Neneh Cherry? In the 1980’s, she was a pop music force, the Rihanna of her day.  She had Lyme disease, though recovered fully.  George W. Bush had a mild case and we haven’t heard from him for months.

This year, Lyme disease hit the indie film world when afflicted actress Parker Posey pulled out of an Off-Broadway production.  After a course of antibiotics and some dietary changes, she is reportedly back to good health.

Cable TV is forever changed because of the annoying ailment.  On “Curb Your Enthusiasm,”  Larry David pitched a “Seinfeld” reunion show to the fictional head of NBC.  David so angered the suit that the reunion was nearly cancelled.  On a whim, Larry correctly diagnosed the executive’s early Lyme disease, saving the “Seinfeld” project.  A documentary about Lyme disease called “Under Our Skin” was considered for an Academy award.

Forty years ago, Borrelia was as much an unknown as the many aspiring young film actors currently toting their iPods to screen tests.  Young people would get arthritis, fevers, and a lack of energy but the cause was a mystery.  It was finally shown to be due a bacteria living in deer ticks.  People become infected when a tick (as small as the head of a pin) bites the skin, especially after exposure in the woods or high grass.  In some patients, a circular rash spreads much scandalous celeb videos spread online.  If treated early, with a course of antibiotics, the infection clears.

Untreated, some can go on to have chronic symptoms, including nerve problems, sore joints, depression, and fatigue.  There is controversy about “chronic” Lyme disease.  Since blood tests are notoriously unreliable, some patients with similar symptoms may be diagnosed, possibly incorrectly.  Also, after the initial time frame, not every patient will respond to antibiotics.  Unfortunately, the documentary “Under Our Skin,” though helpful in spreading the word about the condition, also muddies the waters.  The film makers argue that doctors and pharmaceutical companies have conspired to limit research, preventing work on a cure for the condition.  This type of zany conspiracy theory suits AM radio or cable news pundits fighting for ratings, but it doesn’t help patients with a potentially debilitating condition.  As a physician, I have no reason not to want to see the Borrelia Bergdorferi bacteria beaten back into obscurity.

Runner up, Infection of the Year: 
Swine flu

Swine flu traveled the globe on an unscheduled press junket. It even gave Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley a fever for a few days.  Since it causes no rash, however, this is the last you’ll hear of H1N1 at  Th-th-th-That’s all folks!

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