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May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

Karen Metzger had known there was something wrong with her since childhood, but the explanations varied. An active girl, she would find herself succumbing to fatigue and exhaustion, and by her early 30s she had arthritis throughout her body, particularly her neck. By the time her boys were in high school, she started to lose the use in her right arm, and she began to question whether she could continue working as a lab technician at Aultman Hospital.
Many guesses were made at what ailed the New Philadelphia woman: multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome or suffering from the flu she seemed to get often enough. But no diagnosis led to a relief in her symptoms or a path to recovery.
Then she met a woman who asked if she might have Lyme disease.
Metzger had been bitten by a tick when she was in junior high, but the incident had not made much of an impression on her at the time. Given the fact the disease is spread by ticks to humans, she decided to pursue the idea.
Unfortunately her concerns were dismissed by local health experts who insisted Lyme disease wasn’t in Ohio or decided she had to be making things up. She spoke to a neurologist who had her visit an infectious disease doctor in a visit that didn’t go well.
“He thought I was crazy,” she said.
But two doctors in Pennsylvania did not. Having become experts in the disease, they tested her for it, and it was positive. Her son Ryan, who had dealt with several chronic illness issues, also would be diagnosed.
For the first time in ages Metzger found answers and relief. They immediately prescribed her antibiotics that reduced her severe symptoms. She regained function of her arm, and the severity of her symptoms lessened.
“It changed my life,” Metzger said. “I was concerned I was going to be handicapped.”
That’s a reality numerous Americans face because until very recently many patients faced the same obstacles as Metzger: doubt from their doctors and the medical community.
This is why Metzger will attend a symposium on the event on May 26 in honor of May being Lyme Disease Awareness Month. The symposium will be from 6-9 p.m. at Andover Christian Church, 150 Stillman Ave., Andover, and will feature specialists from Connecticut and New York City as well as a veterinarian and a spokeswoman living with the disease.
Crystal Stull, a Wooster native and current Ashland resident, faced similar issues as Metzger.
“People don’t really believe you’re sick, and that’s one thing that if you talk to anyone with the Lyme, they’ll tell you,” Stull said. “That wears on you, and when people don’t believe you, that’s devastating.”
More devastating for Stull have been the consequences, which can be neurological for someone who goes years without a proper diagnosis. Stull, 54, struggles with memory loss and often chronic headaches.
In addition to finding professionals who will give a proper diagnosis, Stull is interested in prevention. She said the ticks are particularly bad this year, appearing regularly in yards and flower beds as well as tall grass. Both she and her daughter suffer from the disease and want to see it addressed appropriately.
Awareness is considered especially important by both the Center for Disease Control and the Ohio Department of Health. In 2015 the Center for Disease Control released a finding stating the disease impacts an estimated 300,000 Americans every year with 30,000 new cases being reported by state health departments and the District of Columbia every year.
The primary cause is from a tick infecting a human, which may not always be apparent because immature ticks called nymphs can often go undetected. People can get ticks from walking in wooded areas, high grass or from their pets carrying a tick inside with them that switches to a larger host.
If an individual notes they were bitten, the CDC advises getting help immediately because “patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely.”
Telltale signs include flu-like symptoms and fever as well as a prominent bull's-eye rash. However, not everyone gets the rash, and not everyone is aware they were exposed to ticks, making diagnosis difficult, especially because the disease mimics so many others.
The CDC primarily reports receiving diagnoses in 14 key states, and Eastern Ohio has had several new diagnoses as well.
The Ohio Department of Health has reported a rapid growth of the blacklegged tick population, which has been found in 60 counties including Tuscarawas, Holmes and Wayne County.
The ODH reported 160 confirmed cases in 2016, 154 confirmed cases in 2015 and 119 in 2014. Those numbers don’t represent suspected cases and results not reported to county health departments.
Locally Tuscarawas County had 9 suspected cases in 2016 with one case confirmed. Holmes County had 12 reported cases and two confirmed cases. Wayne County reported 20 cases of Lyme disease in 2016, up 15 from the previous year.
“Wayne County saw 15 more cases in 2016 for an increase of 400 percent from 2015. This activity may be attributed to local physicians testing more frequently for Lyme disease as general awareness about Lyme disease symptoms and chronic aspects of the disease have been made more available,” Wayne County health commissioner in Nicholas V. Cascarelli wrote in his annual report, adding that Ohioans have a greater risk of catching the disease as the tick populations continue to increase.
In addition to getting proper diagnoses, Jon Croup, the environmental director for the Holmes County Health Department, noted there are several ways to avoid getting the disease altogether.
He said wearing light-colored, long pants; tucking pant cuffs into sock tops; and spraying pant legs and socks with insect repellents would help. Repellents containing 0.5 percent permethrin or 20-30 percent DEET are effective in repelling ticks. When possible avoid walking in tall grass and weeds and check for ticks on yourself and children every hour or two. Check pets for ticks before allowing them in the home and if sighted carefully removed attached ticks as soon as possible. Keep the yard and play area well mowed.
In the end Metzger strongly hopes to encourage people to attend the May 26 symposium to learn more. Tickets are available with a donation on www.eventbrite.com/e/lyme-disease-symposium-tickets-32820644431.
“I want people to know it’s a real threat to their health in the state of Ohio, that if they don’t get answers with one doctor, they have to be their own advocate if they don’t feel good,” Metzger said.

Published: May 15, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170519987