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Woman helps stop misdiagnosis by identifying new disease

Readers of our Oregon medical malpractice blog may be interested to know that a previously undiagnosed disease that affects more than 4,000 Americans every year has been identified by researchers. With the help of a very sick woman, researchers have been able to identify the tick-transmitted illness.

The discovery will help innumerable people who have been misdiagnosed with other diseases, including Lyme Disease, because of the similarity of symptoms. Symptoms of the disease include fever, headache and muscle aches. The disease - which does not yet have a name - can have serious consequences when undiagnosed. This is especially true for patients with immune systems that are already compromised.

The woman who assisted researchers in discovering the disease is an 81-year-old Lymphoma survivor. She first began feeling ill in the fall of 2011, after being treated for cancer. She lost a significant amount of weight, suffered from cognitive problems and had trouble leaving her home.

The woman's doctor thought her symptoms were due to a return of the cancer. However, an oncologist found no signs of cancer. She then saw another doctor, who thought she might have Lyme Disease. To confirm the diagnosis, he conducted a spinal tap and found corkscrew-shaped bacteria filled her spinal fluid. It is this bacterium that causes the disease.

Because the discovery is in the early stages, it is hard for researchers and doctors to estimate the number of people that contract this type of bacteria. However, early data indicates about 4,300 people will contract this strain each year. A correct diagnosis of the disease is imperative, as delayed treatment can result in the spread of the disease and a worsened condition.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "Hunterdon County woman helps researchers find new disease, similar to Lyme," Dan Goldberg, Jan. 22, 2013.

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