Lyme Disease

Spring is in the air!  The flowers are in bloom, the birds are singing, and it’s prime feeding time for Ixodes scapularis commonly known as the deer tick.

If you live in Connecticut, either you, your pet or someone you know has been infected with Lyme disease, Erlichiosis or the Human Babesiosis bacterium transmitted from the bite of infected deer ticks.  All of us have heard the horror stories of individuals that failed to develop symptoms until this debilitating disease had reached its latter stages or were not properly diagnosed by their physicians.  Often referred to as the “Great Imitator” the symptoms of Lyme disease frequently resemble those of the flu, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.  If you are lucky, you will develop the tell-tale bulls eye rash known as Erythema migrans that occurs in roughly 50- 70% of cases.

I was one of the lucky ones.  My first exposure to Lyme disease happened after a camping trip to the Rhode Island shore in 2002.  Within a matter of days I was stricken with a multitude of casebook symptoms; a stiff neck, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath and a bulls eye rash that grew to over ten inches in diameter in three days.  I have never been so crippled before.  The moving documentary, Under Our Skin, presents the stories of victims who are suffering from the long term effects of tick borne illness and the current controversies within the healthcare industry surrounding this under reported and growing epidemic within our nation.  This film brought tears to my eyes when I recalled my own feelings of hopeless desperation after the first physician I saw refused to treat me and said,”If you are worried that it is Lyme disease and you wake up one morning with Bell’s Palsy then come back and see me.”  Thankfully, I received a proper diagnosis and treatment from another physician shortly thereafter.

Since 2002, I have been bitten and re-infected on four other occasions by both the pin head sized nymphs and adult deer ticks.  Each time I experience the same casebook symptoms that hit me like a freight train although I no longer develop a bull’s eye rash.  Consequently, I have developed a mild case of arthritis in my joints since the age of twenty seven.

According to the comprehensive Tick Management Handbook published by The Connecticut Experimental Station there are 865 known tick species throughout the world and approximately 12 species within the United States that are regarded as potential threats to humans and pets.  Tick borne illnesses have been documented throughout the world and Lyme disease has been found in forty nine U.S. states thus far.

The first documented Lyme condition was recorded in 1883 by Dr. Alfred Buchwald in Breslau, Germany but the namesake of “Lyme disease” comes from Lyme, Connecticut when a series of residents were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the mid 1970’s.  The oldest human known to be infected with Lyme disease is the 5,300 year old frozen mummy named Ötzi who was discovered in the Alps in 1991.  You can learn more about Ötzi from the Iceman Unfrozen article in the November 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Many of us wonder why there has been a population explosion of deer ticks in Connecticut over the last twenty years and scientists may have found that answer.  Studies have shown that there is a direct link to the increased tick population with the ornamental and invasive Japanese Barberry shrub, Berberis thunbergii.  Introduced as a low maintenance, deer resistant shrub in 1875, barberry is decimating the delicate ecology of our native forests as well as providing ticks with the perfect humid environment in which to thrive.  Mice, who are known carriers of the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete that causes Lyme disease, seek shelter beneath its thorny branches and are partially responsible along with migrating birds and deer for distributing the blacklegged ticks over a wide area.  You can read more about this connection online from the University of Connecticut article, Controlling Japanese Barberry Helps Stop Spread of Tick-Borne Diseases and Barberry, Bambi and Bugs: The Link Between Japanese barberry and Lyme disease from the March 2011 issue of Scientific American magazine.

To learn more about the history of Lyme disease, its symptoms, and prevention check out these other selections available at OWL.

The Widening Circle: A Lyme Disease Pioneer Tells Her Story by Polly Murray-  Polly, her family and members of her community from Lyme, Connecticut suffered from this crippling disease for almost twenty years before they they could be diagnosed and treated.  This is Polly’s inspirational story of courage and persistence that initiated the discovery of the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete responsible for Lyme disease in 1982 by Dr. Willy Burgdorfer.

Everything you Need to Know About Lyme Disease and other tick borne disorders by Karen Vanderhoof-Forschner-  Written by the founder of the Lyme Disease Foundation and published in 1997 this book offers scientific information regarding tick identification, symptoms, treatment, as well as prevention.

The Top 10 Lyme Disease Treatments: Defeat Lyme Disease with the Best of Conventional and Alternative Medicine by Bryan Rosner- This book welcomes the patient and individual seeking a more in depth understanding of the conventional and alternative treatments available for early or late stage Lyme disease sufferers.

Tricia is the Library Assistant and Publicity Coordinator for the Oliver Wolcott Library who had a good hardy laugh while drawing a “deer tick” cartoon for her blog.

One thought on “Lyme Disease

  1. An outstanding and relevant blog entry. Barberry is a serious public health threat as well as a threat to our forests. It is spread by birds, nurserymen, and loggers. We can’t do much about bird transport, but we need to stop planting barberry and stop manipulating the forest … at least without first eradicating barberry at logging sites … and nobody is doing that yet.

    What’s most amazing is the tepid response to what is clearly a huge public health emergency.

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