3 things to watch for: summer flu, school phobia, abdominal migraines
By Dr. Elena Frid
The summer is officially behind us and the school year is back in full swing. As we put the long summer days and warm summer nights behind us and get back in the academic saddle, I want to address some symptoms that you might not realize can be related to Lyme disease and associated co-infections.
I often hear parents talk about the summer flu. This usually occurs in the middle of summer when young kids who are in camp or just spending the summer with their families develop a flu-like illness for a few days. Often the symptoms are vague, such as fevers, joint aches, muscle pain and weakness. The child may spend days in bed with recurrent spikes of fevers, headaches and decreased level of energy. This is often thought of as a viral infection.
It is important to know that half of people with Lyme will never notice a tick bite and more than half will not have a rash. Ruling out Lyme disease due to absence of a bull’s-eye rash is inaccurate and misleading. Especially if you live in an endemic area or have seen ticks on your property or on your pets, “summer flu” must be assessed for Lyme disease and associated co-infections.
I also urge families to educate themselves on the accuracy of the blood test given for Lyme disease. The test can be over 50% inaccurate, especially if blood is drawn immediately after exposure or months after the tick bite. I recommend either rechecking the blood work a number of times with your doctor (using the Western Blot technique not just ELISA), or using a specialty lab to assess for vector-borne illnesses. If misdiagnosed, the summer flu may resolve spontaneously, but can later develop into a persistent/tertiary Lyme illness that is difficult to treat.
Therefore, we need to be more vigilant about methods of prevention in both children and adults, as repeat insult to one’s immune system can lead to chronic and life-altering symptoms. For more information on various methods of prevention please visit my website www.drfrid.com.
Many children are diagnosed with school phobia, when they develop anxiety, depression, or OCD behavior which peaks at the onset of a school year. Starting a new school year is stressful for a child, which in turn can bring on various neuropsychiatric symptoms. Often, these symptoms are misdiagnosed as purely psychiatric disorders such as “school phobia.”
I am deeply concerned when I hear that diagnosis in a child who has multiple other complaints including pain syndrome, severe fatigue, headaches, cognitive impairment and much more. When these children see a physician, their testing many times comes back normal or vaguely abnormal and so they fall through the medical cracks and receive a psychiatric diagnosis.
If your child is complaining of multiple physical and neuropsychiatric symptoms – believe him/her. Have the child assessed by a neuropsychologist if he/she had a drop in IQ, impaired memory and concentration, decline in visual special skills or executive functioning.
Please note, if your child is also complaining of physical symptoms, he/she must be evaluated for systemic illnesses. Lyme disease and associated co-infections can certainly bring on many of the symptoms mentioned here and much more. Since Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector-borne illness in the United States and has been reported in all 50 states – we as parents should be vigilant and think of it even if the doctor doesn’t.
In my practice, at least 50% of children present with gastrointestinal complaints as one of the main symptoms of Lyme disease. They often have months of unexplained abdominal pain, with normal gastrointestinal workup. Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea/constipation, food intolerances and weight loss or gain are quite common.
Children develop a very restricted diet, only able to eat a handful of food groups. Going out to dinner or preparing proper meals becomes extremely difficult, impacting the entire family. If your child has had a thorough gastrointestinal work up without any explanation as to what is causing these pronounced symptoms, I urge you to look into the possibility of Lyme disease. The bacteria can be very disruptive to the gut lining through direct invasion as well as inflammation of the GI tract.
These are only some of the symptoms that can be caused by Lyme and associated infections. Addressing them accurately and promptly will help change your child’s life tremendously for years to come.
Dr. Elena Frid, a board-certified neurologist and clinical neurophysiologist who practices in New York City, is a member of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. Her website is elenafridmd.com. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.