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Baldelli beat rare but treatable Lyme disease
By BRIAN LANDMAN and MARC TOPKIN
Published July 10, 2005
Rocco Baldelli didn't know much about Lyme disease until it hit home.
Baldelli, the Devil Rays star outfielder, tested positive for it in high school and missed the state baseball championship.
"It was a pretty rough experience," he said Saturday.
Lyme disease, named in 1977 after children in Lyme, Conn., inexplicably showed signs of arthritis, is caused by the bite of a tick carrying a rare bacterium.
Baldelli said he was so fatigued he felt as if he were on prescription medication. He would lay on his couch and doze all day. He tested positive for mononucleosis and a strain of meningitis. But he also had a red mark on his right leg - an insect bite - and tested positive for Lyme.
"It very well could have been Lyme disease because I was always in my back yard, out in the woods and stuff," he said.
Infection is most common in the late spring and early summer; ticks are more active and people are outdoors more. (It can't be passed from person to person). It usually takes 7-14 days for symptoms to appear. They often include a red, slowly expanding "bull's-eye rash," tiredness, fever and joint pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If untreated, patients may develop arthritis and neurological abnormalities such as facial palsy and inflammation of the brain. In rare cases, Lyme disease has led to heart problems, such as inflammation of tissues around the organ.
There were 23,763 reported cases in the United States in 2002, according to CDC data. Most were in upstate New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts and, Baldelli's home state, Rhode Island. Just 79 cases were reported in Florida. But the CDC says the disease is "greatly underreported."
It's also misunderstood ... until it hits home.
"It was over a month before I even started to feel better," Baldelli said. "I honestly didn't do one thing for a whole month. I sat in my house. I didn't really feel better until the end of the summer."