Modern gun hunting season opens in Arkansas this weekend. Waiting in the woods for all those hunters will be millions of ticks.
While the Centers for Disease Control says tick-borne Lyme disease is a growing epidemic in this country, state statistics say Arkansas hunters need not worry.
Twenty years ago Arkansas saw a couple dozen Lyme disease cases pop up each year.
But while the number of Lyme disease cases nationwide has been increasing, the number of recognized cases in Arkansas has dropped.
“I’ve had quite a few tick bites before,” says Shrewsberry, now a freshman at the University of Central Arkansas. “But there was one that was painful. That was big and red.”
Christy Davis of White Hall says her Lyme has progressed to the point where she can’t help her kids with their homework.
“Mine is neurological so it has my brain all jumbled up,” says Davis.
If either one of them has Lyme disease, it’s news to the Arkansas Department of Health.
“Different states interpret the CDC guidance a little bit differently in terms of diagnosing cases,” says Dr. Dirk Haselow, State Epidemiologist and Medical Director for Communicable Disease and Immunizations with the Arkansas Department of Health. “We interpret it very strictly.”
Lyme disease has become an epidemic in the United States, with the CDC acknowledging 300,000 new cases each year. The vast majority of those cases are concentrated in the northeast and upper midwest.
Lyme in the south is extremely rare. Since 2007 statistics show it is more than rare in Arkansas – it is non-existent. While all the states around us have reported cases, Arkansas has none.
If you are bitten by a black-legged tick infected with Lyme it sometimes, but not always, leaves a slowly expanding circular red rash, or bull’s eye rash.
This can be followed by mild headaches, a stiff neck, fatigue, low fever and migrating muscle and joint pain.
Lyme disease is easily beaten by antibiotics if caught early. But catching it early is unlikely in Arkansas.
A clinical review of Lyme disease published in the Journal of Arkansas Medical Society advises that testing for Lyme disease “…can lead to clinical confusion, unnecessary treatment and excess cost.”
The Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care gets more to the point: “Lyme disease is not acquired in Arkansas.”
“They refused to test,” recalls John Shrewsberry, Abby’s dad. “They said it wasn’t called for an it would be a waste of time and money. And that it just didn’t exist. And that was the end of it.”
“Are doctors actually discouraged from considering Lyme as a possible diagnosis in Arkansas?”
“We would discourage them from thinking of it as the first cause,” says Dr. Haselow.
Lyme left unchecked leads to chronic and severe conditions…so serious they are often mistaken for other ailments and diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Alzhemiers, Parkinsons, fibromyalgia, meningitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, severe depression or Lupus.
And when doctors can’t figure out what is wrong, sometimes the patient is blamed.
“Because there was no proof…it was in my head,” recalls Abby Shrewsberry.
She says it was also suggested she was an addict trying to obtain pain meds.
In his book “Why Can’t I Get Better: Solving the Mystery of Lyme and Chronic Disease” Dr. David Horowitz writes that the CDC’s Lyme disease “…definition is narrow” and that “The magnitude of real Lyme patients eluding the standard tests could be vast…”
Could some of these patients be here in Arkansas?
“We look at every lab report that gets reported to us,” says Dr. Haselow. “And we haven’t had anyone in years meet the criteria that the Infectious Disease Society of America uses to diagnose Lyme.”
“She was suffering, she was treated for Lyme disease, and she got better,” says John Shrewsberry about his daughter Abby. “And to me that is enough to go O.K…there is an issue here.”
“I think they just need to acknowledge that Lyme disease is here and we should be able to get the treatment we need here instead of having to go somewhere else,” says Christy Davis.
And for Christy somewhere else is Washington D.C.
She was told her Lyme disease has progressed to the point where she needs a port or a pick-line so she can receive antibiotics through an I.V. She says that kind of treatment isn’t available in Arkansas and even if it was, she can’t afford the $46,000.00 price tag. Her insurance won’t cover it.