When people think of ticks, what immediately jumps to mind is their potential to carry Lyme disease. According to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, New Hampshire has one of the highest incidence rates of Lyme in the country – 1,373 cases identified in 2015 alone. And 60 percent of black-legged ticks sampled in the state are infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme – Borrelia burgdorferi.
The early months of spring can be the most dangerous, because that’s when the black-legged tick, also called deer tick, are in the juvenile stage. That means they’re small – the size of a poppy seed. And that size means they’re difficult to see, and many people aren’t aware they’ve been bitten by one. Which means the initial period of infection – when Lyme is most easily identified and treated – can pass you by.
This is what happened to Katina Makris of Peterborough, who went years without an official Lyme diagnosis, until her health had so badly deteriorated she was all but housebound, barely able to walk, and experiencing problems with her heart, joints and neurological symptoms.
Makris ran through a gamut of diagnoses – chronic fatigue syndrome, early signs of multiple sclerosis, walking pneumonia, chronic mononucleosis – but never Lyme. Not for lack of testing for it, though. Makris was tested not once, but three times for Lyme, but each time, the test came back negative. It was only after she requested a more comprehensive DNA analysis that it was confirmed.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Lyme can be difficult to diagnose, for several reasons. Some of the most common symptoms – headaches, dizziness, joint and muscle pain – are common in other diseases. Most people have heard about the bulls-eye rash that is indicative of Lyme, but it does not appear in at least a one-fourth of the people infected.
Also, according to the NIAID, current diagnostics aren’t always able to detect Lyme in the early stages. It can take weeks before a person’s immune system creates enough antibodies to be detectable by the test.
While the Center for Disease Control does not recognize “chronic Lyme,” many who are diagnosed with Lyme complain of symptoms persisting even after standard treatment options have been utilized.
And while Lyme is at the forefront of the mind when it comes to ticks, people should be aware that it’s hardly the only threat. In 2015, there were also 110 cases of anaplasmosis (a tick-borne bacteria). And there have been two cases of Powassan virus (a bacteria similar to Lyme) identified in New Hampshire.
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