The month of May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and here in Wisconsin, we all need to become much more vigilant about this disease.
I’m actually using this opportunity, here in April, to make you aware of Lyme Disease and ticks because they’re already out there!
Last weekend I helped to organize a 31-mile trail run in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest. One of the volunteers at an aid station—not even a runner!—found a tick on her. We also had one runner report that she had two ticks on her leg that night. Yuck! And way too soon!
Lyme Disease is on a dramatic rise, and it is not anything you want to take lightly. Having experienced Lyme Disease personally, and having seen it multiple times in the office in the last several years, I can attest that it is a terrible condition. You need to do all you can to protect yourself, your pets, and most especially your children.
In June 2008, while I was working in Plymouth, I attended a nutrition seminar in Stevens Point. On my drive to my the seminar, I stopped just outside of Waupaca to go running on a segment of the Ice Age Trail.
That trail was not very well-kept and was very overgrown. For most of the run, I had to duck under tree branches and my legs were constantly brushing up against the long grass along the sides of the trail. The “trail” was barely a trail.
After about a two-hour run, I was back at my car and continuing my drive to Stevens Point. Upon arrival at my friend’s house, where I was staying, I took a shower. In the shower I found four wood ticks on me. By the end of the day, I had found three more. It was absolutely disgusting.
That night, I was sitting on my bed and texting Ellie about my day. While doing that, I noticed a little black bug crawling along my thumb. This one wasn’t a wood tick. It was a deer tick, which is much smaller, but much more likely to carry Lyme Disease.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night. I had a nonstop sensation of bugs crawling on me. Imagine that!
Fast forward three weeks, and I was feeling really run down. I remember finishing up a normal Friday at work and being exhausted. I had a headache that made my face hurt when I would move my head in any direction. Although I rarely get headaches, I just assumed it was no big deal, and went out for dinner that night. During dinner with my parents at an Irish restaurant, the headache subsided with a pint of Guinness.
Saturday morning I woke up with the same headache. And a low back ache. I’m a chiropractor, and was only 27 years old at the time. I had never experienced low back pain until then! Unfortunately, things continued to go downhill, and my temp continued to climb, all the way to 102 at one point. The worst part? Ellie was gone that weekend, so I didn’t have anyone at home to complain to.
In bed Saturday night I alternated between sweating fevers in only my underwear and shivering chills in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Three times during the night I woke up and changed clothes again.
Sunday morning, same old story. Headache. Stiff neck. Sore low back. No energy. Swollen and painful lymph node in my right armpit. Something’s not right. Then, it “clicked.” It’s probably Lyme Disease, but its hallmark symptom is erythema migrans, or a bull’s-eye rash, which I didn’t have. Nonetheless, I knew I needed blood work and scheduled an appointment with a doctor for Monday afternoon.
Sunday night I drenched the sheets in sweat. I was an absolute mess, and this was the sickest I have ever been in my life.
Monday morning I still felt like crap. Headache. Stiff back. Chills. But the icing on the cake was provided by a glance in the mirror as I dried myself off from the shower. There, right over my left shoulder blade, was a big old bull’s-eye rash.
The last part of the diagnosis was now present. By the afternoon the rash had become even more distinct, to the point that the doctor told me he could take a picture of it for a textbook.
Because I try to be healthy, my immune system reacted very strongly to the infection, and that allowed me to be able to identify that something was seriously wrong very quickly. That made treatment much more likely to work quickly. I was in early “stage one” which is best described in all the symptoms I had for those three days. Stage two is when it gets more serious and can start affecting one’s heart, liver, and nervous system. I was very fortunate to be able to “tell” that something was wrong. Lyme Disease is known as the “Great Imitator” because the symptoms can mimic other illnesses and can vary in severity. That’s why it’s important to stay vigilant and aware!
As I mentioned, that was the sickest I’ve ever been. It was terrible. I’m thankful to be better and not have to manage the terrible symptoms of chronic Lymes. I want to do everything I can to make sure you or your kids don’t have to deal with it either, so remember these common first symptoms:
n “bull’s-eye” or erythema migrans (EM) rash. The rash may appear on any area of the body and does not always take on the typical bull’s-eye form.
n fever;
n chills;
n muscle and joint aches;
n tiredness;
n headache;
n swollen lymph nodes.
Also, when it comes to my kids, after bathtime, I perform a “full body scan.” They’re used to it. I check them over everywhere, and do it every bath time, but am especially vigilant if they’ve been out in the woods or if we’ve been camping, etc. I can tell you every birth mark they have as those little ticks can sometimes look a lot like a little mole.
In addition, I highly recommend that you have one or two “Tick Testing Kits” available. Our office carries them. They test the tick and return a 99.9 percent accurate identification as to whether the tick was carrying Lyme Disease or not. It is safe and easy to use, and determines if the tick that you found was carrying Lyme Disease long before any symptoms appear. As my story shows, time is of the essence! The entire kit is $24.99.
As you probably know, I’m a very big proponent of getting outside. It’s unhealthy to be inside constantly, and we can’t live in fear. Just be aware—May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month—and be vigilant for the tick not just this month, but year-round. Those little things are most prevalent from May to August, but I’ve seen them every month of the year here in Wisconsin. For more information and photos, see www.lymedisease.org.
(The contents of this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional health care advice. Do not use the information in this column for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition.)