An epidemic form of arthritis has been occurring in eastern Connecticut at least since 1972, with the peak incidence of new cases in the summer and early fall. Its identification has been possible because of tight geographic clustering in some areas, and because of a characteristic preceding skin lesion in some patients. The authors studied 51 residents of three contiguous Connecticut communities -- 39 children and 12 adults -- who developed an illness characterized by recurrent attacks of asymmetric swelling and pain in a few large joints, especially the knee. Attacks were usually short (median: 1 week) with much longer intervening periods of complete remission (median: 2.5 months), but some attacks lasted for months. To date the typical patient has had three recurrences, but 16 patients have had none. A median of 4 weeks (range: 1-24) before the onset of arthritis, 13 patients (25%) noted an erythematous papule that developed into an expanding, red, annular lesion, as much as 50 cm in diameter. Only 2 of 159 family members of patients had such a lesion and did not develop arthritis (P less than 0.000001). The overall prevalence of the arthritis was 4.3 cases per 1,000 residents, but the prevalence among children living on four roads was 1 in 10. Six families had more than 1 affected member. Nine of 20 symptomatic patients had low serum C3 levels, compared to none of 31 asymptomatic patients (P less than 0.005); no patient had iridocyclitis or a positive test for antinuclear antibodies. Neither cultures of synovium and synovial fluid nor serologic tests were positive for agents known to cause arthritis. "Lyme arthritis" is thought to be a previously unrecognized clinical entity, the epidemiology of which suggests transmission by an arthropod vector.
Arthritis and Rheumatism
Arthritis Rheum. 1977 Jan-Feb;20(1):7-17