There are few things as frustrating or frightening as being sick and having multiple doctors be unable to diagnose what is wrong. It is one of the things that makes Lyme disease — known as the “great imitator” — so devastating. Lyme diseases mimics other conditions and diseases, and the tests for Lyme disease can be inconclusive at times.
Tick-borne illnesses can blossom undiscovered if people are not aware of the risks. Tick bites typically leave a small rash, but it often goes unnoticed. And, if left untreated, the long-term effects can be debilitating. Symptoms can range from joint paint, to flu-like feelings, to chronic bronchitis, to a loss of strength, to severe depression, to memory loss and comprehension problems.
We applaud the efforts to raise awareness by the NE Ohio Lyme Foundation, which this month hosted its third annual symposium on the issue in Andover. Ashtabula County is at particular risk because of the prominence of wooded areas where ticks breed and the popularity of outdoor activities like camping and hunting. Deer tick bites that spread Lyme disease will often leave a warm “bullseye” rash that is not itchy or painful. Because both the rash and the ticks themselves can be difficult to spot, experts recommend doing a full body inspection — including of any pets — after time in the woods and fields.
Some tips to prevent tick bites include:
• Wearing light-colored clothes, including shirts with long sleeves with the hem tucked into the pants and long pants tucked into socks or boots.
• Applying a tick repellent.
• Frequently checking your body for ticks while outside and doing a thorough inspection in the shower.
• Protecting pets with an anti-tick product and keeping dogs on a leash and out of the weeds.
• If you find a tick attached, do not crush or puncture it. Instead, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible using tweezers or a finger and thumb. Pull the tick straight up and out — do not twist. Be sure to wash the bite location, hands and tweezers with warm soap and water.
In 2008, there were just 45 confirmed human cases of Lyme disease in 28 Ohio counties, compared to 270 human cases in 44 counties in 2017 — and that was up from just 160 in 2016. And those only count confirmed, not suspected or likely cases. Some of the most common misdiagnoses are chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and depression.
In fact, Lyme disease is one of the prime examples of why it is important for those suffering to continue seeking second, third, fourth or 15th medical opinions. Many Lyme disease patients are told to seek psychological counseling because doctors can’t find any medical reason for their problems. Beth Michel, who works in the clinical pharmacy profession near Pittsburgh, said at the symposium she has Lyme disease and has been sick for five years — but it took a year and a half to find the cause. She had to see 13 doctors before finding one who immediately understood what her confluence of symptoms meant.
Doctors do the best they can, but they are not perfect. Doctors should move away from the idea something is “all in a patient’s head” even if they cannot immediately diagnose the problem. For those suffering, don’t be afraid to speak up and keep seeking answers, even if it takes time.
For more information on Lyme disease, visit the American Lyme Disease Foundation at www.adlf.com.