I understand that May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. As a mom with children, I must confess that I’m completely baffled by the disease. What is it? How do we get it? How can we avoid it? And what are its treatments? – Janet B., Springfield, Ore.
You’re right. May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. There’s no better time to address this question and educate people about this often-debilitating disease than now, especially because it’s on the rise domestically and internationally.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2009, Lyme disease surpassed the number of HIV cases. The CDC also confirmed 30,158 probable Lyme cases in 2010.
Just this past week, I found news reports on how Lyme disease is increasing in Kansas, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and New York.
Though ticks infected with the Lyme bacteria are generally more common in the Upper Midwest and Northeast, their numbers have increased in the West, as well. With the ease and increase of domestic and global travel and transport, the migration of these bloodsucking, disease-depositing critters is on the rise.
Dr. Helen Minciotti – a mother of five, a pediatrician and the former chairwoman of the pediatrics department at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Ill. – recently reported in the Chicago Daily Herald: “Lyme disease is most common in the northeastern U.S., but the disease-spreading ticks are also found in the north central states as well as along the Pacific coast. Lyme disease has been reported in 49 states. [Connecticut entomologist Kirby] Stafford reports that Lyme disease peaks during the summer months and is most often seen in patients younger than 14 and those older than 40.”
The staggering aspect about Lyme disease is that it’s caused by a bite from a deer tick the size of a freckle or the smallest of seeds (even much smaller than the more well-known dog tick).
And with a mild winter and early heat waves, their population is booming.
Claudia Blackburn, Sedgwick County Health Department director in Kansas, explained: “Ticks are out there because we’ve had warmer weather. They’re out there earlier than normal.”
There is a long list of symptoms of Lyme disease, and many of them can be vague. A KSN news special out of Wichita, Kan., reported that “ticks carrying Lyme Disease leave behind a large ‘bulls-eye’ shaped rash. Other symptoms include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and muscle aches.”
The bull’s-eye-shaped rash occurs in about 80 percent of those infected, according to Dr. Rajlakshmi Krishnamurthy from Boston Medical Center. The rash can appear one to 30 days after a tick bite and often is followed by the above symptoms.
Epidemiologist Megan Saunders, from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, further explained, “The classic symptom is a rash but also can have very serious long-term neurological, rheumatological and arthritic symptoms, as well as some cardiac symptoms.”
Moreover, the National Institutes of Health concluded that Lyme’s impact upon one’s total personal health can be equal to congestive heart failure.
Brand-new research also is linking chronic Lyme disease, or CLD, to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults, according to principal investigator Joel L. Young, medical director of the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine in Minnesota.
Young told Medscape Medical News, “The association between ADHD and CLD has not been identified previously.”
The survey results also corroborated a relationship between CLD and depression and anxiety (The findings were presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s meeting May 8).
Pat Smith, the president of the national nonprofit Lyme Disease Association Inc., explained in a recent press release that CLD “needs to move out of the dark ages. … LDA wants people to know that without proper diagnosis and treatment, Lyme disease can seriously and chronically affect all systems in the body.”
CLD’s international increase is one reason that throughout Lyme Disease Awareness Month, the LDA is launching a multiple-week campaign asking, “Chronic Lyme disease, are YOU next?”
I don’t want to alarm anyone, but like the LDA and health practitioners and experts everywhere, I want to raise awareness and echo the warnings to you and your family about this increasing and often-debilitating disease, especially if unchecked, ignored and untreated.
As always, if you experience any of the symptoms above, immediately consult your physician or health practitioner.
In the next two columns, I will address how to reduce your risks of being bitten by a deer tick and then discuss the various treatments for Lyme disease at its various stages. I also will share with you the story of a young and courageous woman named Brittany, who contracted CLD and is, even at this moment, fighting it.
My wife, Gena, and I encourage you to read Brittany’s story at Healing4Brittany.com and see how easily she was infected with Lyme disease. Then, if you are so moved, please share it with others and even financially help with her roughly $50,000 share of costs to free her from this progressive disease.
For more information about deer ticks and Lyme disease, I recommend the following websites: LymeDiseaseAssociation.org, CDC.Gov/ticks, UnderOurSkin.com and TexasLyme.org.
Lastly, for a more holistic medical approach to and treatment of Lyme disease, Gena and I recommend Sierra Integrative Medical Center in Reno, Nev. The people there are pioneers in integrative medicine. They blend the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative therapies.
Chuck Norris is the star of more than 20 films and the long-running TV series "Walker, Texas Ranger." His latest book is entitled The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book." Learn more about his life and ministry at his official website, ChuckNorris.com.