Weimar doc to become area’s Lyme disease expert
Kathleen Harris suffered from Lyme disease for seven years before she was finally diagnosed. Her treatment of daily injections lasted for a total of 18 months, but she would go through the treatment again in a heartbeat, she said, because she finally got well.
Now the Auburn resident has become a volunteer patient advocate for others who are suffering from Lyme, as well as those who may not even know they have it. Recently, she encouraged Dennis Sindelar, director of ancillary services at Sutter Health to seek out a doctor in the area whom would be willing to become a Lyme expert. They did just that, which is where Dr. Randall Steffens, director of Weimar Family Care, comes in.
“Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because it mimics so many other diseases,” he said. “ . . . Every time you go into the woods you’re going to bring back a tick.”
Ticks are bad news, as most folks in the Foothills know, because they are carriers of Lyme disease. Californians have to watch out for the Western black-legged tick, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). It will latch on to most mammals, including humans. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 300,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, but Harris is dubious about that number as she believes so many people have undiagnosed cases.
“The protocol (for most doctors) is to have one lab test done, and if it comes back negative they don’t require a second test,” she said. “The problem is that there are so many false negatives with that first test.”
Steffens agrees with Harris’s assessment. In fact, he and his wife were both infected with Lyme disease while living in Tennessee, he said, and his wife’s initial test came back negative. Though he and his wife did not suffer from chronic Lyme, their run-in with the disease sparked his interest in knowing more about it.
“I certainly would like to help others who are unfortunate enough to have chronic Lyme disease,” he said.
It’s not easy to find a doctor in the area who’s willing to help these patients, Harris added.
“So many family physicians don’t want to deal with it,” she said. “Doctors are overwhelmed . . . They don’t have time to put aside what they’re doing to focus on the research.”
As an example, Steffens spends 14 to 16 hours each day working to build Weimar Family Care, he said. Becoming a Lyme disease expert will add to his already full days.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it,” Harris said.
The symptoms of Lyme disease may include fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, muscle weakness, nerve damage, sleep disruption, behavioral changes, and cognitive losses, according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
To prevent Lyme disease, the CDPH recommends that when in tick-infested places (anywhere deer live): Wear light-colored clothing; wear a hat and keep all skin covered; tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks; use tick repellant on exposed skin, check for ticks for three days after returning; remove attached ticks immediately with a pair of sharp tweezers and watch for signs of rash.
Reach reporter Tricia Caspers-Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org