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 isnt 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 diseaseseverything
from arthritis to multiple sclerosis and sinus
Few doctors know much about Lyme
and some refuse to treat it. Thats 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
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 couldnt hold my head up,"
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 areaslike
the Hoosier National Forest, for example.
Terry Schneider, a mechanic from
Beaver Co., Pa., suffered a tick bite two years
ago. Lymes 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 arthritisjust three of the 60 or more
symptoms of the disease called "The Great
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. Thats because he didnt
seek treatment while the disease was in its early
A simple two-week course of anti-biotic
kills the Lyme spirochete if it hasnt had
a chance to lodge throughout the victims
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 wasnt 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
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.
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 infectionyou run a 3 percent risk
of contracting Lyme in those two areas. This does
not mean other regions are free of Lyme.
Deer arent 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 middlethe "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
away the best place to go first if
you suspect you have Lyme is not to the doctors
office but to the Internet. Victims have their
own newsgroup called sci.med.diseases.lyme 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 ticks
fluids into your before you get it removed.
A good place to start looking
for information about symptoms and treatments