Editor:The shock on everyone's faces was palpable as Dr. Corson conducted a public forum on Lyme Disease and Co-Infection in the standing room only Cochranville Fire House last Saturday. It was evident to all that we are in the midst of another kind of terror almost invisible to the naked eye. Lyme Disease, a Bacterial Infection is now of epidemic proportions distributed throughout the country, but number one on the list is the state of Pennsylvania, and the bucolic rolling hills of Chester County with its farmlands and forests is a real hot spot.
It became prevalent during the early 1990's, and now for myself and many others it is difficult to get through a year or even six months without a tick imbedded under the skin, let alone those you manage to see crawling all over you. Most people don't have the characteristic bull's eye, and many are not even aware of the presence of a tick who is secreted away in the hidden recesses of the body or scalp. There is rarely pain associated with their burrowing under the skin, and they may leave a tiny red mark or none at all.
Dr. Corson admitted her own failure to understand the inroads of Lyme Disease when her son was afflicted, and she didn't connect the symptoms he evidenced with that of the insidious tick. Consequently she has become a crusader in her efforts to inform, diagnose, and start a course of treatment which is not necessarily completed after the one month of the standard Doxcycline.
Although Lyme disease is the best known of the tick-born illnesses, and is endemic to Pennsylvania, "all ticks carry diseases." It was like dropping a bomb on the uninformed public who can no longer say, "it's only a dog or wood tick!" Not all ticks are passive either, simply dropping on you from a tree or hitching a ride on you as you brush by a blade of grass. In fact, the Lone Star Tick aggressively hunts you from as far as fifty feet away. The list of diseases caused by the tick range from Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Bartonella, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia. The treatments may vary from Doxycycline for Lyme Disease, Streptomycin for Tularemia, and Tetracycline for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Blood Analysis at a specialized laboratory should be done in order to differentiate the disease.
"Lyme Disease is the great Imitator of our time," according to Dr. Corson, "and all organ systems can be affected." Symptoms may vary: joint and muscle pain and swelling; cardiac, chest pain or rib soreness, heart palpitations or headaches; tingling, numbness, facial paralysis, double or blurry vision to mood swings. A sudden onset of any of the following symptoms, should send out a warning to your doctor: a child otherwise toilet trained suddenly regresses or even obsessive-compulsive behavior or panic attacks on someone who was never predis-posed. Even the dreaded Alzheimer's disease has been linked to Lyme. It can worsen oppositional behavior in adolescents, and may actually contribute to addiction to alcohol or drugs to alleviate the symptoms. There is evidence that it may cross the placenta when a mother has contracted the disease.
Who is most susceptible to Lyme Disease? The very young, who routinely play outside and engage in sports and middle-aged homeowners. Increasingly people with even well-groomed lawns and their pets are stricken with Lyme Disease. Naturally farmers, hunters, campers, and those who commune with Nature have greater risk of contacting Lyme Disease. Dr. Corson's patients range from age 3 to 102.
We can take the usual precautions such as wearing light-colored clothing where the ticks are more visible to the eye; we can wear broad-brimmed hats, and long sleeves and tuck our pants in our socks. Permethrin for clothing, products with Deet, and even
Herbal-based products which help to repel bugs and ticks are available. Most veterinarians recommend owners use Front-line, Top Spot, or Preventic collars to minimize their risk. But there are no guarantees, and there is some evidence that ticks are becoming resistant to some sprays. To kill ticks on clothing, you must set the dry cycle for at least one hour. What about those of us who like to swing our sheets and clothing to the breezes to reduce energy costs?
There is no question that Lyme and other tick-born diseases have had a significant impact on our way of life and our productivity. How helpless we all feel in the face of this virulent and insidious attack. In the course of the twelve years I've lived in Lower Oxford Township, I've had at least four imbedded Lyme Ticks, suffered the debilitating effects of the disease, was ultimately diagnosed with Lyme Disease, and have been treated with Doxcycline as a consequence. I have also in recent years taken Teasel Root to alleviate some of the lingering symptoms. Last year it happened twice. I am neither a farmer or a hunter, but do enjoy walking around our well-worn path around the pond. I only walk in the nearby woods when temperatures are well below freezing. Should I curtail some of my activities in order to protect myself?
What really inspired the fear in me was when I saw what I perceived as a bug on my young grandson's lower eyelid. On closer examination, I realized it was a Lyme nymph, so tiny, most people would never have noticed. It gave me pause to consider what steps may be taken to help eradicate this scourge when most suburban properties and farms are crisscrossed with deer trails and the habitat of mice. Many of us have pets, who spend part of everyday outside, and in many cases whatever they are exposed to, so are we.
We are blessed with a moderate climate in Chester County. Our lives have not been inexorably changed by the hurricanes which plague the South or the tornadoes which devastate the Midwest nor the avalanches of the Far West or the mudslides and earthquakes of California, but by an insidious tick, microscopic in size which inflicts misery to so many families in our area. We must weigh our own health risks and that of the environment against spraying large areas with insecticide which the ticks may already be building resistance against.
We must wage an all-out war by getting support and funding for more research and aid through our county and state governments. We must not stop here for the Federal Government has a responsibility to protect its citizenry, and must fund a major research effort through the National Institute of Health. How long before the disease becomes immune to the antibiotics which now save us from the worst side-effects?