Lyme Disease Symptoms Come In Many Forms, Difficult To Diagnose

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A small black legged tick bite can have long-term, serious effects on a person's health when the tick, or other insect, is carrying the spirochetal bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

The tick's bite may cause the victim to suffer a bull's eye rash or flu-like symptoms within a few days or several weeks.

There are many people in Arizona and a few in the Payson area with Lyme disease. Usually they contract it elsewhere and doctors here struggle to identify it.

At times the person may have no related health issues after a tick bite until years later, or the health issues they have are not considered by them or by their doctors to be Lyme related.

"Lyme disease is difficult for even Lyme-literate doctors to diagnose because it presents (itself) in so many different ways in different people," said Ann Prow, a local woman who believes she was bitten by a tick 23 years ago.

She remembers being hospitalized for two weeks in Door County, Wisc. with a 104 to 106 degree fever.

In the years following the bite, she said she had chronic ear infections, severe fatigue and at one point was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

"Many of us are misdiagnosed with MS, CFS, Fibro, ALS, Parkinson's, Myasthenia Gravis and other labels at first. But, the good news is that with treatment most improve instead of going down hill," wrote Katherine Morrison in an e-mail to the Payson Roundup. Morrison was diagnosed with Lyme disease in October 2001.

Since then, she has gone from bedridden to being able to get out and about in her power chair for short periods of time each day.

Early detection, followed by a treatment of oral antibiotics, usually enables patients to recover rapidly and completely, according to the Centers for Disease Control Web site.

A late diagnosis of Lyme means it can develop into a chronic disabling multi-system illness.

Bell's Palsy, heart palpitations and intermittent bouts with arthritis are just a few of the symptoms.

Insects carrying Lyme know no boundaries.

According to lymenet.org, 45 bugs carry the disease and "... numerous wild and domestic animals, including rabbits, rodents and birds, have been found to carry the spirochete that causes Lyme disease."

The CDC reports no evidence that Lyme is transported from person to person nor can pets give it to their owners, although pets can transport ticks into the home.

Exposure to deer ticks in the Eastern U.S. and western black-legged ticks in the Western U.S. is highest during late spring and summer when human outdoor activity is greatest.

"I have learned that the most toxic (tick) is the one you can't see (in the nymph stage). It is the size of the period at the end of this sentence," Morrison wrote.

"I treated it in Wisconsin. We saw tons of Lyme there because it is endemic," said Jennifer Cool, a local physician who practiced in that state.

"I have not had a single case of Lyme disease reported to me," said Matthew Bollinger, the epidemiologist for Gila, Graham and Greenlee counties, for the past three years.

Statewide statistics of Arizona residents:

Between 1995 and 2004, 35 people were diagnosed with Lyme disease in Arizona.

These 35 people may or may not have had a travel history, according to Bollinger, meaning they might have contracted the disease elsewhere but were diagnosed in Arizona.

The disease is diagnosed by blood tests, symptoms, objective physical findings and history of possible exposure.

Treatment is via oral or sometimes intravenous antibiotics.

One antibiotic that is used, Doxycyline, may cause sun sensitivity, nausea vomiting and diarrhea.

To Prow, the side effects of taking a several-week course of antibiotics are worth it for the relief they eventually provide from the chronic stage of the disease where the tick has burrowed into body tissues and is more difficult to kill.

"When the antibiotics make you sicker, you're happy because you know you are going to get better," Prow said.

For her part, Morrison wrote, she is thankful she found her Lyme-literate doctor in California even though it did not happen until after she had gone back and forth between a primary physician who told her to see a psychiatrist and a psychiatrist who told her to go back to a medical doctor.

Preventing Lyme disease

  • Spray outdoor clothes with a permethrin spray
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck pants into socks or boots
  • Check yourself and children frequently for crawling ticks before they bite
  • Remove tick promptly and carefully and save it for medical testing by your physician.

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