Lyme Disease Has Spread Throughout Great Lakes States

by Don Jordan

Lyme Disease, a malady usually transmitted by the bite of a tiny "deer tick" is on the rampage in the Great Lakes states and anyone who spends time outdoors should take extra steps to protect against tick bites.

Lyme is caused by a tiny bacterium called a spirochete, a spiral microbe closely related to the microbe which causes syphillis. Lyme isn’t fatal like its more famous cousin, but it can be debilitating. Like syphillis, Lyme attacks the central nervous system, causing symptoms that simulate up to 200 different diseases—everything from arthritis to multiple sclerosis and sinus headaches.

Few doctors know much about Lyme and some refuse to treat it. That’s because of some insurance companies refuse to pay to treat people who have the disease. Some companies are cutting off payments for chronic Lyme treatments, based on the erroneous belief that the disease can be cured with one, two to five week treatment. If diagnosed soon after infected, the disease can be cured in that time period. But people who go undiagnosed for even as short a time as six months to one year face a long struggle against the spirochete.

When Anita Lawes of Clarkston, Mich., sought treatment for Lyme Disease, the first doctor she saw diagnosed her with post-partum depression, a psychological symptom associated with child bearing. Another told her she was "obsessed" with her symptoms, recommended shock treatments, and, finally sent her to a mental hospital.

"I was diagnosed with lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression. Basically I faked my way out of the mental ward by telling them their Prozac was working miracles, even on days when I couldn’t hold my head up," said Lawes.

Lawes probably picked up Lyme via a tick bite suffered near her suburban Detroit home. Over half of all Lyme infections are picked up within a mile of home, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. A large majority of the rest of the cases are found in people who spend time outdoors in forested areas—like the Hoosier National Forest, for example.

Terry Schneider, a mechanic from Beaver Co., Pa., suffered a tick bite two years ago. Lyme’s tell-tale "bullseye" rash appeared around the bite shortly after it happened. He ignored the rash and started having problems last year. Schneider now suffers constant muscle spasms in his legs, chest pains and symptoms of arthritis—just three of the 60 or more symptoms of the disease called "The Great Pretender."

Schneider is, or was, a deer hunter and was bitten on a deer hunting trip. He is now undergoing a two-to-five-week course of intravenous antibiotic treatment that may or may not relieve his suffering. That’s because he didn’t seek treatment while the disease was in its early stages.

A simple two-week course of anti-biotic kills the Lyme spirochete if it hasn’t had a chance to lodge throughout the victim’s body. Once it has entered the central nervous system and advanced symptoms appear, many victims are never completely cured, or at least some symptoms never go away.

Nancy Bernsten, a registered nurse who contracted Lyme in 1985 but wasn’t diagnosed until 1995 said: "My primary doctor would not allude to insurance company refusals to pay, but she seemed so reluctant to treat me further, and even said I was cured, despite my report to her of relapses occurring about every 4 weeks. She did the best she could to convince me I was well, but I certainly knew better. I was going downhill."

According to CDC statistics, there are about 13,000 to 15,000 new cases of Lyme Disease reported each year. The number of cases goes up in warm, wet years when breeding conditions are perfect for the tiny ticks that carry Lyme.

Indiana is in one of three high risk regions of the country. The northeastern region, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest all have higher rates of Lyme infection than the rest of the country. New England and the Great Lakes have the highest rates of infection—you run a 3 percent risk of contracting Lyme in those two areas. This does not mean other regions are free of Lyme.

Deer aren’t necessarily the guilty harborers of Lyme-carrying ticks either. Rodents are probably the number one carriers of Lyme to humans, mainly because they live in and around residential neighborhoods in large numbers. The "deer ticks" also like squirrels, mice, rats and probably rabbits.

Early symptoms of Lyme infection begin with a circular rash which has a red spot it the middle—the "bullseye" rash that is often but not always seen. Other early symptoms included sinus headaches, toothaches and cold and flu-like symptoms.

After experiencing these early symptoms, the disease may disappear for months or even years before resurfacing as chronic Lyme Disease. In this stage, arthritic symptoms are common, but literally dozens of other symptoms may be expressed.

Lyme can be difficult to diagnose, because the spirochete appears to "hide" outside the blood stream at certain times. Many Lyme victims do not test positive. In fact, only about half of all cases are detectable in blood samples.

Far and away the best place to go first if you suspect you have Lyme is not to the doctor’s office but to the Internet. Victims have their own newsgroup called where you can find up-to-date advice and a doctor sympathetic to Lyme patients. You can also find lots of other people with Lyme Disease who provide support for the little-understood malady.

The best thing to do is avoid getting bitten by a deer tick in the first place. Always wear long sleeve shirts and pants. Tuck pants into socks and button cuffs and collars on shirts. Spray insect repellent containing DEET around these clothing edges. Spray your hatband. Avoid "brush busting" if you can. At home, check your body for ticks and remove them by applying heat to their posteriors. Do not squeeze on the tick as this will inject the tick’s fluids into your before you get it removed.

A good place to start looking for information about symptoms and treatments is

1997. 2003. 2009.. 2010. Copyright Donald Lee Jordan

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