Looking out for Lyme

Take precautions when spending time outdoors during tick season
By: Kathy Ito, Colfax Record Correspondent
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Now that spring has finally arrived in the western Sierra, so have the hungry black-legged, or deer, ticks waiting to feed on unsuspecting people and animals. “Although ticks are here year round,” said Colfax physician Dr. Kurtis Fox, “we see them mostly in the spring.” Ticks hang on bushes, grasses, and leaf litter waiting to crawl onto a passing mammal for a meal. These blood-sucking pests can transmit Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. According to Fox, locally one in every 50 to 100 ticks is infected with Lyme. Costly, long-term health issues can result in humans if the disease is not diagnosed and treated early. “Unfortunately, the symptoms of Lyme come and go and it’s difficult to confirm by blood test until six weeks after a person has been infected,” said Fox. “Some people may be bitten by a poppy-seed-sized nymph and never know it or see the early signs of infection.” Lyme disease is called the “Great Imitator” because it can look like other diseases and is easily misdiagnosed, according to the California Lyme Disease Association. This was the case for Chris Ryland of Meadow Vista. “After a 1997 backbacking trip into the Tahoe National Forest with my husband, David,” Ryland said, “I noticed a ‘funky’ rash that quickly disappeared.” The Rylands wore shorts on the trip and stopped to photograph wildflowers in the open meadows along the trail. Neither thought to check themselves for ticks or to wear protective repellents such as DEET and permethrin. Ryland said she suffered from a wide range of health issues for years after the fateful backpacking trip. She had relentless pain and aches in her joints, difficulty concentrating, and suffered sensitivity to light. “I was treated for multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, but nothing seemed to help my uncontrollable pain,” Ryland said. “My doctors were concluding I had psychological disorders.” The disease association reports Lyme can infect the brain, nervous system, joints and human organs, making it appear to be familiar conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, MS, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), attention deficit disorder, Parkinson’s or mental illness. Luckily for Chris, she was retested for tick-borne illnesses with the western blot test and found she was infected with the disease three years after she was bitten. After receiving antibiotics intravenously for two continuous years, Ryland said she is leading a relatively normal life but suffers from reoccurring seizures. “I have good days and bad days,” she said. “I am not able to go back to teaching because of the lasting effects of the disease.” According to the Rylands, Chris’ treatments cost upwards of $100,000 because their insurance company would not cover the cost of her antibiotics. In another local case, Weimar resident Paula Mooney said her daughter became infected with Lyme by tick nymphs brought into the house by their pet cat. “Kaitlin began to have continuous stomach aches, lost a lot of weight and developed Bell’s palsy when she was in sixth grade,” Mooney said. All of Kaitlin’s maladies were symptoms of Lyme disease, which her pediatrician immediately recognized and confirmed with a simple blood test, her mother said. According to Mooney, within 10 days of taking oral antibiotics Kaitlin quickly improved. She is now 22 and has had no residual effects. Fox advises taking precautions when heading outdoors. “And always check yourself, your pets and especially your children when you come,” he said. “The western Sierras are only second to the New England region in the U.S. for the highest concentration of ticks and Lyme disease. “If you don’t feel well, have flu-like symptoms, general aches and pains see your doctor and let them know where you have been and what you have been doing,” Fox said.