By PATRICK DEWEY • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
What is most astounding about Lyme Disease is that one tick the size of a sesame seed or smaller, according to the CDC, can change someone’s life course.
Cherry Valley resident Tina Leentjes, diagnosed with Lyme Disease in May 2017, went from working five days a week and attending events almost every evening to working part-time and falling asleep
before dinner is finished.
For Brenda Michaels of Cooperstown, symptoms began with knee pain and started a four-year battle that included headaches, fast heartbeat and facial weakness.
The life-changing effects show why awareness of Lyme Disease is critical.
Two weeks after her tick bite, Leentjes developed a rash that ran from her chin to her neck. The rash grew exponentially. Leentjes and medical providers first thought the issue was chemical exposure. Two weeks later she was diagnosed with Lyme.
Leentjes later developed Bell’s Palsy, a paralysis of the face. She also experienced severe head pain which she said was “like someone was trying to drill into my head.”
In addition to symptoms similar to those of Leentjes, Michaels said she experienced visual disturbances that made reading and seeing difficult.
Sara Tyghter is director of education and outreach at the Global Lyme Alliance, which raises awareness of Lyme Disease and supports research. Tyghter said eye pain, as well as floating dots appearing in one’s field of vision, are common symptoms of Lyme.
Both Michaels and Leentjes experienced fatigue and difficulty focusing or tracking visually.
Tyghter said Lyme Disease can interfere with heart function. When this occurs, symptoms include chest pain, lightheadedness and rapid heartbeat.
Lyme’s effect on the heart may even lead to needing a heart transplant.
Tyghter said that there are 476,000 new cases of Lyme Disease annually in the US.
Kelly Liner, a communicable disease nurse at the Otsego County Department of Health, said Otsego County has one of the highest rates of Lyme infection in New York. She said the state only requires 20% of cases to be reported. In 2019, about 100 Lyme cases were reported, making the Otsego County total close to 500. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, more up-to-date statistics were not available.
Tyghter said ticks are commonly found in tall grass, brush and leaves. She said as the number of tick species in the Northeast increases, the variety of outdoor habitats for ticks has increased as well.
Tyghter said ticks appear in both rural and urban areas.
She said to prevent or better detect tick bites, consider wearing long pants, long socks and closed-toed shoes outdoors. Also consider long sleeves. Above all, Tyghter said, insect repellent is important and instructions for applying it should be followed carefully.
Tyghter said early symptoms of Lyme disease include fatigue, rash, muscle aches, fever and headaches. She said symptoms may come and go initially so that you feel ill one day, fine for a few days and sick again later. Because early symptoms mimic many common illnesses, Lyme Disease may be overlooked.
“If you are not feeling well and have been exposed to the outdoors, we suggest you ask your physician to run a panel for tick-borne illnesses including Lyme Disease,” Tyghter said.
According to the CDC, Lyme antibodies don’t show up for several weeks, so a test soon after a tick bite may not be accurate. If you continue to feel ill after a negative test, consider getting retested.
Go to www.betickaware.org or www.health.ny.gov/publications/2825/ for more details on prevention, tick removal and symptoms.