Orange County health officials said Friday that new blood test results have cast doubts that a Laguna Beach woman contracted Lyme disease in what was believed to have been the county's first such case since reporting the illness became mandatory in the spring.
Rick Greenwood, the county's manager of communicable disease treatment, said a repeat test for the disease proved to be negative. The test was done from a blood sampling taken from the unidentified woman who developed an illness from a tick bite.
The test was conducted at a UC Berkeley laboratory which specializes in the disease, Greenwood said.
"For now, there is still no documented case of the disease in the county," Greenwood said.
There were several previous blood tests conducted by commercial laboratories in Orange County before a sampling was sent to UC Berkeley. An initial test found low levels of the disease's antibodies and another test found the disease to be borderline positive.
Lyme disease, which is spread though infected ticks, was first identified 14 years ago in Old Lyme, Conn.
The flu-like illness whose symptoms include fatigue, headaches, and joint pains and a rash has been reported mostly in the East Coast. If not treated, the disease can cause inflammation of the heart, numbness and arthritis.
But even with the latest negative results, the disease cannot be ruled out completely in the Laguna Beach case, said Robert Lane, associate professor of entomology at UC Berkeley, who performed the test.
Lane said the disease might have been treated early enough by the woman's doctor so that it would not show up in tests.
The Laguna Beach case was considered to be the first Lyme disease case reported in Southern California since March 30, when physicians were required to report the illness to state health officials. Although Lyme-infected ticks thrive in Northern California, where there is a moist and cooler environment, they are less likely to be found in Southern California.
The Centers for Disease Control tracked more than 5,000 cases of Lyme disease in 1988 nationally. In 1982, only 526 cases were recorded.
Orange County health officials said that because there is no standard test for the disease, there was a conflict in the results.
County epidemiologist Thomas Prendergast said there is still uncertainty over the Laguna Beach case.
"We're not saying it wasn't Lyme and we're not saying it is. But one thing for sure is that there is no confirmed case in Orange County," Prendergast said.
County disease vector biologist James Webb said the county will continue to look out for the disease.
"We're being cautious because there is potential in the county. There are animals here such as deer and (other) small animals that can carry infected ticks," Webb said.
Still, Greenwood cautioned that people should not be frightened by the disease. He said that he received dozens of letters and calls from those worried about contracting the illness.
"Many people feel that they are at risk when it comes to a health concern. We don't want people panicking over this. There is no real danger," Greenwood said.