Chesterton Tribune



Worst tick season ever projected; be mindful of Lyme disease

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Health officials are warning hikers, birders, and other lovers of the outdoors that the 2017 tick season could be the worst in history.

As Time magazine reported last week, tick numbers are dramatically up this spring, the result of a warmer than usual winter and a smaller than usual die-off of the ticks’ most common hosts, rodents and mammals.

But the tick prevalence isn’t simply a seasonal fluke, Time noted. It’s also a decades’ long trend, as re-forestation and climate change have allowed ticks to expand their natural range.

All of which is bad news for folks who play and work outside, because the more ticks there are in the environment, the greater the chances that folks will be exposed--via tick bite--to the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, the cause of the debilitating Lyme disease.

Lyme was first identified in 1975 in Old Lyme, Conn., where children mysteriously began presenting symptoms initially diagnosed as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Forty years later, health professionals have come to call Lyme “The Great Imitator,” as sufferers are often diagnosed with a host of other disorders before an accurate diagnosis of their symptoms is finally made: chronic fatigue syndrome, ALS, Parkinson’s, MS, Lupus, and depression, among others.

One Lyme sufferer who went a decade before her own case was correctly diagnosed--after finding a tick on the back of her head in 2004--is Chesterton resident Brandi Silvonek-Durko. “I went probably 10 years being passed around from doctor to doctor and specialist to specialist, test after test, procedure after procedure, this diagnosis and that diagnosis, trying this medication and that one, before I was properly diagnosed in 2014,” she told the Chesterton Tribune.

Diagnosis is one thing, however. Treatment is entirely another. Even three years after her diagnosis, Silvonek-Durko’s status is day-to-day, “depending on what treatment protocol I’m on, what I do or don’t do during the day, what I eat, how much sleep I get.” Among her continuing symptoms: bladder pain, numbness and tingling in her extremities, joint and jaw pain, and blurry vision.

“This has become my new normal,” Silvonek-Durko said. “I’m still learning how to navigate through life living day by day because each day is different. Most days it feels like I have the flu.”

A person’s best bet: just don’t get bit by a tick. Some tips:

* Avoid tick-infested areas. Be sure to walk in the middle of trails and avoid contact with tall grass and vegetation.

* Treat skin, clothing, and gear with appropriate repellents (permethrin on clothes/gear, DEET on skin).

* Tuck trousers into socks.

* Perform at least daily tick checks anytime you--or especially your young children--are outdoors, even if only in your own backyard. Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed. Shower within an hour of being outdoors to prevent ticks from attaching.

* Remove ticks with a fine-point tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull the tick straight out, without twisting. Save the tick for testing.

Lyme has traditionally been diagnosed when patients present a bull’s-eye rash, joint pain, and fatigue within the first 30 days after a known tick bite. But possibly as many as 40 percent of Lyme sufferers never recall having had a rash, Silvonek-Durko noted, and a common test for Lyme tends to yield a not insignificant number of false negatives.

Not every physician is “Lyme literate,” though, and Silvonek-Durko urges those who believe they may be suffering from Lyme to obtain a physician referral from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, a not-for-profit advocacy organization.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a confirmed total of 28,453 persons were diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2015, the last year for which numbers were available. Yet the CDC has extrapolated from several surveys that as many as 300,000 new cases of Lyme may occur every year. Confirmed cases in Indiana in 2015: 102, with at least 100 reported in the previous two years, compared to an average of only 53 confirmed cases between 2005 and 2012. Which means that Lyme is trending up, way up, in Indiana.

The key--if at all possible--is immediate diagnosis and treatment. “On one end of the Lyme spectrum, someone gets bit by a tick and they quickly take the necessary steps to treat the infection,” Silvonek-Durko said.

“This individual can be cured. One the other end of the spectrum, someone gets bit by a tick but goes undiagnosed for years, giving the bacteria time to thrive in every part of their body. This person might never be cured and it could take years of treatment to go into remission.”

The stakes, in other words, are incredibly high, Silvonek-Durko said.

“Saying this disease flipped my life upside down is an understatement. You can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like having a life on pause. Waiting to find the missing puzzle piece to feeling well again, being bedridden for weeks on end because the pain is too debilitating, you have no idea until you’ve lived it. I hope people know their lives are at stake with this disease, that no one is safe. This is going to be the worst year for Lyme disease.”




Posted 5/24/2017




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