May Is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

Lauren Rogulski

HOUSTON, TX- In the early 1970s a group of children and adults in Lyme, Connecticut, and the surrounding areas were suffering from mysterious and debilitating health issues. Their symptoms included swollen knees, paralysis, skin rashes, headaches, and severe chronic fatigue. Visits with doctors and hospital stays had become all too common.

These families were left undiagnosed and untreated for years. In 1981, scientist Willy Burgdorfer, found the connection between the deer tick and the puzzling illness that plagued the region. He discovered that a bacterium called a spirochete, carried by ticks, was causing the illness we know today as Lyme Disease.

Lyme disease is one of the fastest-growing vector-borne infections in the United States.

Lyme is called “The Great Imitator,” because its symptoms mimic many other diseases. It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.

Symptoms of early Lyme disease may present as a flu-like illness (fever, chills, sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea and joint pain). Some patients have a rash or Bell’s palsy (facial drooping). However, although a rash shaped like a bull’s-eye is considered characteristic of Lyme disease, many people develop a different kind of rash or none at all. Estimates of patients who develop a Lyme rash vary widely, ranging from about 30% to 80%.

Patients with Lyme disease are frequently misdiagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and various psychiatric illnesses, including depression. Misdiagnosis with these other diseases may delay the correct diagnosis and treatment as the underlying infection progresses unchecked.

Most people contract Lyme from the bite of the nymphal, or immature, form of the tick. Nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed. Because they are so tiny and their bite is painless, many people do not even realize they have been bitten.

Ticks are also responsible for transmitting other illness than just Lyme Disease. They can transmit Anaplasmosis, Mycoplasma, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus, Borrelia miyamotoi AKA tickborne relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Bourbon virus, Heartland virus, Colorado tick fever and Tularemia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 476,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the US every year.  However, because diagnosing Lyme can be difficult, many people who actually have Lyme may be misdiagnosed with other conditions. Many experts believe the true number of cases is much higher.

If Lyme disease is not diagnosed and treated early, it may become late-stage or chronic. This may also occur when early treatment is inadequate.

It is a common misperception that Lyme is an East Coast disease. It is found throughout the United States, as well as in more than sixty other countries.

With a number of celebrities and pro athletes revealing in recent months how Lyme disease has altered the course of their careers, awareness of the long-term effects of the disease is growing.

Singer Shania Twain said earlier this year that a struggle with dysphonia, which left her temporarily unable to sing, was caused by Lyme disease.

Pop star Avril Lavigne was bedridden for five months after contracting Lyme disease.

Pro golfer Jimmy Walker revealed in April 2017 that he was battling Lyme disease, and took a month off the PGA Tour as he recovered.

Your best defense against tick-borne illness is to avoid contact with ticks in the first place. Your next best defense is to quickly find and remove any ticks that may latch on to you. Ticks tend to be near the ground, in leaf litter, grasses, bushes and fallen logs. High risk activities include playing in leaves, gathering firewood and leaning against tree trunks. When you hike, stay on cleared trails instead of walking across grassy fields.

Dress defensively. Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves. Tie back long hair and wear a hat. Light-colored clothing helps you spot ticks before they cause trouble.

You can purchase clothing that has been pre-treated with the repellent permethrin at outdoor recreation stores. Or you can purchase permethrin and spray clothing yourself.

If a tick bites you, don’t squeeze, twist or squash it. Don’t burn it with a match or cover it with Vaseline. Use fine-point tweezers or a special tick-removing tool. Pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure. Save the tick for testing in a small bottle or plastic bag. Label it with your name, date, site of bite and how long tick was attached.

You can send the tick to test and determine if the tick is carrying the pathogens that can lead to tick-borne illness to the following organizations:

  • Igenex: https://igenex.com/product/tick-test/
  • Tick Report: https://www.tickreport.com/

 

If you develop a rash, take a photo of it and see a doctor as soon as possible. Whether or not you find a tick, stay alert for symptoms of tick-borne illness. A bull’s-eye rash indicates Lyme disease, though not everybody with Lyme develops one.