Florida State University (FSU) quarterback Wyatt Sexton will miss the upcoming college football season due to Lyme disease.
Sexton was reportedly found disheveled and disoriented on a city street last month.
“We expect him to fully recover,” stated Sexton’s parents in an FSU news release.
Sexton’s case was “advanced” and had infected the player’s organs, states the release.
“Wyatt has active Lyme disease that has resulted in neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular deficits,” states S. Chandra Swami, MD, in the release.
Swami, who works in Hermitage, Pa., diagnosed Sexton with Lyme disease and recommended intensive IV antibiotic therapy “over a period of months,” states the release.
Lyme disease is carried by a bacterium that lives on ticks.
'Extraordinarily Rare' Case
“This would be extraordinarily unusual,” Stephen Gluckman, MD, tells WebMD.
“It can happen, but it’s very, very rare,” he says, emphasizing that he doesn’t know the details of Sexton’s case.
“Maybe he’s the extraordinary person,” says Gluckman. “But most of us aren’t, and I wouldn’t [want] the public to panic about that.”
“Lyme [disease] is very uncommon, and this would be an uncommon appearance of that disease,” says Gluckman. “Now, Lyme can -- rarely -- affect the brain. It absolutely can,” he says. Spinal fluid tests can indicate that, he notes.
“When it does affect the brain, rarely, it typically does so in a very subacute fashion. It causes dementia that appears over weeks to months, not some sudden change,” he says.
“When Lyme involves the brain, it usually doesn’t involve other organs,” Gluckman also says.
“If you decide someone has Lyme disease involving their central nervous system, the standard treatment is one month,” he says.
Days to weeks following the tick bite, most people (80%) who become infected develop a characteristic rash. A red, slowly expanding "bull's-eye" rash (called erythema migrans) is usually seen. Other symptoms include generalized fatigue, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches, and joint pain.
If untreated, weeks to months later some patients may develop swollen painful joints; inflammation of the brain can occur along with numbness of the arms and legs from nerve inflammation, according to the CDC.
Rarely, heart problems, such as abnormalities in heart rhythms, inflammation of the tissues surrounding the heart (pericarditis), or enlargement of the heart can occur.
Different View on Lyme Disease
Robert Bransfield, MD, sees lyme disease differently.
He is the associate director for Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, N.J. Bransfield also serves as an advisor to the Lyme Disease Association and is a board member of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
“We often see a broad spectrum of symptoms that may be aggression, irritability, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairments, joint problems, [and] other musculoskeletal problems,” Bransfield tells WebMD.
“It can affect every system of the body. That’s sometimes a giveaway,” he says.
Like Gluckman, Bransfield can’t comment on Sexton’s particular case.
“You may see irritability … that’s a fairly common symptom, but higher levels of aggression are less common,” says Bransfield. “You can see confusion sometimes, associative reaction … there are many psychiatric manifestations that can occur,” he says.
News reports about Sexton did not mention aggressive behavior.
“There’s a fair amount of controversy about what constitutes Lyme,” says Bransfield. “There’s a group of us who particularly focus on this,” he says.
Gluckman says he sees two “polar” camps on the topic, with “a lot of misunderstandings” related to diagnostic testing.
Bransfield says awareness has improved, but he’d like to see that continue -- especially about psychiatric manifestations.
“I’d like people to be reassured,” says Gluckman. “It’s rarely a serious illness. It should be easy to treat. I wouldn’t restrict activities or lose a lot of sleep over it.”
The doctors agree on a basic prevention method: the tick check.
The transmission of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease from an infected tick is unlikely to occur before 36 hours of tick attachment. For this reason, daily checks for ticks and promptly removing any attached tick that you find will help prevent infection, writes the CDC.
Deer ticks are very small, says Bransfield.
Ticks “may first attach on the lower part of the body and travel up until they hit an obstruction, be it the waist or elastic,” he says. Also check the hairline and scalp. Embedded ticks should be removed using fine-tipped tweezers.
Good insect repellants with at least 25 percent DEET are also “very effective,” says Gluckman.
SOURCES: News release, Florida State University. Associated Press. Stephen Gluckman, MD, chief of infectious disease services, University of Pennsylvania Health System. Robert Bransfield, MD, associate director of psychiatry, advisor, Lyme Disease Association, board member, International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. CDC.