DURHAM, N.C. -- Kathryn Kirkland spent two years in the woods of North Carolina on the trail of an elusive, blood-sucking pest, dubbed Lone Star, that left rashes on the skin of its victims and anxiety in their minds.
But due to her slick detective work on ticks, Kirkland has determined that people who live in the southeastern states aren't contracting Lyme Disease, as was suspected, but something else that seems to be a tamer cousin.
Between a fellowship at Duke University Medical Center and a post in Duke's Division of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Kirkland worked for the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as an epidemic intelligence officer. Assigned to the North Carolina Health Department, she was put on the case of a mysterious tick-born rash that cropped up in the middle of the state.
Ticks were running amok in an outdoor camp for girls. In two months, 324 ticks were removed from the residents and staff and some of the bites were followed by a circular red inflamed ring, akin to the rash seen in people bitten by ticks infected with the Lyme disease bacteria.
Of the 12,000 cases of suspected Lyme disease recorded by the CDC in 1995, the majority, by far, came from northern states where the disease is carried by the deer tick, which isn't prevalent in the South. Yet similar rashes were also reported by physicians from southeastern states, including North Carolina. But the CDC was unable to isolate the microorganism that causes Lyme disease from skin samples taken from 70 southern patients.
So the question Kirkland wanted to answer was: Is a different kind of tick carrying Lyme disease? And, if not, what sort of disorder is this?
First, the easy part. The ticks in question at the camp go by the name
of Lone Star because the female displays a distinctive white spot on the
back of its shell. The Lone Star is very common in North Carolina. It is
brownish-orange and smaller than the other tick normally in residence -
Contact: Renee Twombly
Duke University Medical Center