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