By Cara Brady
People usually check their dogs for ticks more often than they check their children. But they should be checking both and themselves at the same time.
“There is the belief that the Okanagan is not a high risk area for Lyme disease but there are many infected ticks because this is a flight path for migrating birds which often carry the ticks,” said Merina Brisdon, facilitator for the Vernon Lyme Disease Support Group, which is presenting Lyme Disease in Canada on Saturday.
Brisdon, who has alway been active outdoors, has had three bouts with tick bites.
“The first was in the mid-’80s on the Sunshine Coast when I had the distinctive rash and symptoms but this was not connected to Lyme disease,” she said. “The whole issue is so complex because it can look like many other diseases and the testing is inaccurate and identifies only one of the strains of bacteria transmitted by tick bites. Many doctors are not aware of how prevalent it is.”
The treatment for Lyme disease is taking antibiotics for many weeks, even months. Now that antibiotics are not used as often, this can be difficult for people who are infected.
Brisdon did not get a diagnosis and treatment at first and went on to develop chronic Lyme disease symptoms.
“I was healthy before but I had cognitive issues, memory problems, insomnia, night sweats and constant pain,” she said.
Lyme disease has many other symptoms and is often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s or even ALS. Diagnosis can take months or years and people are sometimes told that it is all in their minds or accused of trying to get attention when they look for an explanation of what is happening to them.
Brisdon found the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation and was advised to see a naturopathic doctor.
“It took three years of treatment and there were ups and downs but I got my life back. It cost $40,000 and there are many people who can’t afford this testing and treatment, which is not covered by medical insurance, so they go without treatment and get worse. Some give up. There were three people in the support group I started in Victoria who gave up and committed suicide. It’s tragic.
“People lose so much: their jobs, homes, sometimes marriages break up. I talk to people all the time who have been bitten by ticks and have health issues that could be related to the bites. Entire families can have the disease, which is devastating. Children can be born with Lyme disease if the mother does not know she has it and they may not show symptoms until they are eight to 12-years-old. Heartbreaking.”
She noted that Lyme disease has been around for many thousands of years. The “Ice Man,” a pre-historic man found frozen in the Alps, had it.
Brisdon got tick bites again in Germany in 2011 and saw the characteristic toonie-size bull’s eye rash. She knew that Lyme disease is endemic in Germany and was able to get immediate treatment. She was bitten again last fall and again got treatment right away.
People can get tick bites at any time of year but most often in spring and fall. In the spring, the nymphal ticks, the size of a period in print, which are not infected until they feed off an infected mammal, will bite. In the fall, adult ticks, the size of a sesame seed before feeding and size of a sunflower seed after feeding, bite so they can lay eggs.
Not all ticks are infected but once they attach, it can take as little as 15 minutes to transmit the disease-causing bacteria. Ticks also bite large wild mammals and horses, dogs and cats whose first symptom is often unexplained lameness.
“There needs to be more research and revised guidelines for diagnosis and treatment. We welcome people to the support group because it can be very helpful to talk to people who understand,” said Brisdon.
For more information, email VernonLyme@gmail.com.