Lyme disease bacteria have been found in thre Baltimore-area parks, but epidemiologists do not foresee an outbreak of cases.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time Lyme disease has been found anywhere in an inner-city park," Dr. Brian S. Schwartz, the Johns Hopkins University researcher who reported the finding, said yesterday. "But I think the risks are infinitesimally small."
Lyme disease has traditionally presented a problem for rural areas, rather than cities, since it is carried by the deer tick. The disease, a bacterial infection, causes a rash, fever, headache, soreness and fatigue.
Lyme disease can be treated by antibiotics. But if not caught in time, it can lead to paralysis, blindness, heart damage and arthritis.
Dr. Schwartz said he has identified the Lyme disease bacterium in two white-footed mice captured in Druid Hill Park as well as mice captured at two other parks.
Dr. Schwartz declined to name the other parks, saying only that one was north of the Baltimore Beltway and the other south of the Beltway. He also declined to say how many infected mice had been found.
The incidence of Lyme disease has been thought to correlate with the presence of deer, but Dr. Schwartz said his data suggest that other animals may play a role in transmitting the bacteria.
"Druid Hill Park is a place with very few deer, so the question becomes how important is the deer to the survival of the ticks," Dr. Schwartz said. "It may be that medium-sized mammals, like raccoons or foxes, are important."
"You have to go where the ticks are to get the disease," he said. "I don't think what we found means the disease just got here."
Dr. Ebenezer Israel, the state's chief epidemiologist, said he also would not predict a wave of Lyme disease besieging the city.
"The bottom line risk to Baltimore City residents is very small," he said.
Dr. Israel said there had been 138 cases of the disease statewide in 1989 and 134 reported so far this year. He said six of the cases were from Baltimore.