Volume 12, Issue 29 ~ July 15-21, 2004
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Beware of Lyme Disease: A Sufferer’s Warning
by Cheryl Emery

Every year since 1999 I have written, hoping to share my knowledge of Lyme Disease and remind others on how to avoid this debilitating disease.

From 2001 to 2002, the incidence of Lyme disease jumped 40 percent and reached an all-time high of 23,763 cases, federal health authorities have reported. In 2003, preliminary numbers from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene show a very slight decrease in Calvert, St. Mary’s and Charles counties. At the same time, confirmed cases in Anne Arundel are up.

Up or down, statistics can be misleading. Only one-tenth to one-twentieth of those contracting Lyme are actually correctly diagnosed and reported, according to the National Center for Disease Control.

It has been five years since I thought I had picked up a little poison ivy on the back of my knee. My doctor agreed, and I treated it with the usual topical ointment. When my face became paralyzed the next day, I went to the hospital. There I was correctly diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy and tested for Lyme Disease. The rest of the symptoms were later, incorrectly, diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. In fact, I had Lyme meningitis. (Meningitis in this context means inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal column.)

Since that day, I have had two cranial MRIs (I have permanent brain scarring from Lyme Disease), three spinal taps (“better” testing for Lyme Disease) and the 28-day prescribed IV regime of super strong antibiotics. I have also taken hundreds of pills and still take 11 a day.

I no longer experience all of the symptoms: extreme fatigue, crying, memory lapses, lack of concentration, low-grade fever, insomnia, depression, brain fog, clumsiness, sound/light sensitivity, stuttering, and many others. But I still deal with the repercussions of Lyme Disease every day.

I continue to have extreme short term memory loss (I forgot to wear my shoes to the doctor’s once), hand tingling, joint and neck pain and overall tiredness. Stress and over doing it intensify those symptoms. In addition, my low-grade fever — the one I had for four of the past five years — returns. I have resolved myself to forever feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Deer ticks are the primary carrier. The little ticks are not only hosted by deer but also mice and possibly other ticks, birds, squirrels, pets and other small animals. Pets can also bring ticks into the house.

Due to their minute size, deer ticks can be difficult to detect. In their nymph stage, they are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. They are not the same as the bigger ticks that you see, for example, on your pets. Deer tick season in Maryland is from April to November, and we live in a high risk area.

If you find a deer tick, remove it from your skin right away. Use tweezers to grip the tick as close to the skin as you can and pull it out. Cover your fingers with gloves or a tissue if you don’t have tweezers. Clean the bite with alcohol. Circle the area with a pen and watch for any change in appearance. Mark your calendar on the date you found the tick. If a rash or other symptoms develop within three to 32 days, call your doctor.

Between 40 to 60 percent of infected humans never notice a rash. Fewer than half have the telltale bull’s eye ring. The first symptoms of Lyme disease may be a flu-like condition, with fever, chills, headache, stiff-neck, aches and fatigue and sometimes even tooth pain. Weeks or months after the bite (even a bite you don’t remember) you may develop pain in various joints or muscles, neurological problems, heart irregularities, problems with vision or hearing, headaches, low-grade fever or other symptoms. Lyme symptoms can mimic Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, attention deficit disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus or multiple sclerosis and be misdiagnosed as one of these illnesses.\

Lyme disease must be identified and treated by a knowledgeable physician, often a specialist. Antibiotics are the treatment, and early enough may vanquish symptoms.

Untreated, Lyme may lead to more serious illnesses of the heart, joints and nervous system. Pregnant women can miscarry. Many people suffer post-treatment relapses of Lyme symptoms for the rest of their lives.

The best precaution is avoidance. When you venture outside, apply an insect repellent containing DEET (n,n-diethyl-m-toluamide) to exposed skin and clothes. When you or people in your care (especially children and the elderly) come indoors, check for ticks.

Look on-line for more information: Lyme Disease Foundation: www.lyme.org; American Lyme Disease Foundation: www.aldf.com; National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.