Area woman promotes Lyme disease awareness

Area woman promotes Lyme disease awareness
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A general awareness of Lyme disease is especially important to know as more people participate in outdoor activities this summer.

                        

COVID-19 has dominated the headlines since March, but there is another disease that’s been a danger for years that could threaten everyone who ventures outside. One area woman, Karen Metzger of New Philadelphia, wants to ensure Lyme disease is not forgotten.

A general awareness of Lyme disease is especially important to know as more people participate in outdoor activities this summer. Ticks can be anywhere; they may even drop from birds flying overhead or trees or tag a ride into your home on clothing.

Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks in our state, and the months of May, June and July are when most of the cases are contracted, although the disease can be contracted at any time during the year.

“I never had a rash,” Metzger said of the familiar bull’s-eye rash, one of the tell-tale signs of Lyme disease. “One night I noticed a scab on one side of my neck. My mom looked at it, and it was an embedded tick.”

Her mother removed the tick, and Metzger didn’t think about it again for years.

As far as the family was able to figure out, the tick came into the house on a pet cat, which shows the importance of keeping an eye on your pets. “There’s no way to know 100%, but that is the way we traced it back,” Metzger said.

Metzger contracted Lyme disease at the age of 13, at a time when it was not recognized. It wasn’t until the 1970s when a group of children and adults became ill in the city of Lyme, Connecticut that it was studied. The bacteria that causes it, borrelia burgdorferi, wasn’t officially classified until 1981.

Metzger had symptoms for years before she was diagnosed but said she never put two and two together. “I was working midnights and thought I was tired from that,” she said.

When she was in her 50s, Metzger started putting the pieces together. She was calling friends to ask them about putting yard signs out for an election where her husband, Kerry, was on the ballot.

“I was talking to a woman whose daughter had Lyme disease,” Metzger said of her first connection to discovering more about the illness. “I had started losing function in my right arm. I was really concerned, but my doctor thought it was tennis elbow. He gave me a brace to wear, but it got worse.”

Metzger went to two doctors who couldn’t find a cause for her symptoms and thought she was crazy. Finally, she traveled two hours to see a doctor specializing in Lyme disease in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. “I learned I had Lyme disease and also a co-infection,” she said.

Ticks not only carry Lyme disease but numerous other bacteria that can infect their unwilling hosts.

Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose. “A lot of the symptoms of Lyme look like symptoms of other diseases,” Metzger said.

Some of the symptoms are the same symptoms of COVID-19, making this a doubly dangerous summer for anyone spending time outdoors. There have even been reports of at least one unfortunate person testing positive for both Lyme and COVID-19.

Kerry Metzger said, “Doctors have to have a 30,000-foot view. The forest itself is the Lyme disease,” because there are so many different symptoms. The disease can attack the joints, the heart, the brain and the nervous system and can affect memory, attention and the ability to multi-task, among other symptoms.

When Metzger was finally diagnosed correctly, she underwent treatment and has seen some improvement. “I am much better than I was. The doctor treated the co-infection with an anti-malaria drug and an antibiotic for the Lyme itself,” she said, noting she still suffers from a combination of the symptoms of all the systems the disease affects.

It’s important to make an early diagnosis to avoid chronic Lyme disease.

“If you’ve had it a long time, it might not be killed with one dose,” Metzger said.

The bad news is that there are an increasing number of Lyme disease cases in Ohio, and ticks are going to be more numerous this year due to the warm winter.

Ticks are sometimes hard to recognize depending on what stage they are at in their life cycle. “They can be very tiny like poppy seeds. With kids out playing in the grass, parents should be careful and check their kids,” Metzger said, noting bath time is a good time to check your younger children for ticks after they have been outside playing.

The proper way to remove ticks is to use pointed tweezers and pull them straight out of the body. Do not use alcohol or Vaseline. “When you are removing the tick, don’t use a match. If you make them mad, they regurgitate, and it goes into your blood stream,” Metzger said.

Once a tick is out, put it in a plastic bag for testing to help track the spread, as not all ticks carry the disease. If a tick becomes engorged, it is now recommended the person take a six-week course of antibiotics as a precaution.

“If you think you’ve been bitten, go to the doctor and get treated. Don’t take a chance,” Metzger said. “It’s better to get treated and not need treatment than to get the disease.”

According to the CDC website, about 300,000 people develop Lyme disease each year.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease include red expanding skin rash, facial nerve (Bell’s) palsy, severe headaches and neck stiffness, lightheadedness, flu-like symptoms, fainting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, and pain and swelling in large joints.

Late or chronic Lyme disease symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, twitching, cognitive impairment, heart-related symptoms, neuropathy (nerve pain, numbness, hot/cold sensations, tingling), headache, muscle aches, memory loss, sleep impairment, gastrointestinal symptoms (stomach/digestive), and psychiatric (depression, mood changes).

For more information on Lyme disease, go to www.lymedisease.org.


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