Lyme disease is a shadowy, silent illness that affects far more people than we know. It is a mimic — showing up as symptoms of a variety of other diseases from bronchitis to ALS to Alzehimer’s. It inflicts real pain and suffering physically, mentally and emotionally. Lyme disease can cause breathing problems and affect cognitive skills, on top of debilitating pain. Tests for the disease often fail to confirm Lyme disease — but doctors say that doesn’t necessarily mean the patient doesn’t have it.
And it is growing at an alarming rate — the sixth fastest growing illness.
According to the Ashtabula County Health Department, there were 13 confirmed cases in 2012, five in 2013, five “suspected” cases in 2014 and 16 “suspected” cases so far this year. Last year in all of Ohio, there were 119 cases in 32 counties, and Ashtabula is one of just a handful of northeast Ohio counties labeled endemic, meaning two or more lab-confirmed human cases have been found.
The problem appears as if it will be getting worse rather than better, as the primary carriers — infected ticks — are becoming an epidemic. Telltale signs of Lyme disease are a tick bite followed by a “bullseye rash” and fever. Hunters and anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors is particularly vulnerable, but ticks can strike anywhere, and can be carried around on clothes by unsuspecting people. Ticks are out year round, even in the cold and winter, but especially this year with the extended bursts of warmth we’ve seen.
It’s not just humans that can carry ticks — or get infected. Geneva veterinarian Dr. Charles Curie called Lyme disease an “epidemic” and “the single biggest health threat to dogs in Ashtabula County.”
“The dogs are the canary in the cave for humans. … The public needs to be very acutely aware of the Lyme disease situation. It is very serious and will only get worse each year,” he said.
That is why it is so important for more attention — and funding — be directed at the problem. A resolution passed in the Ohio General Assembly — championed by State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, was designed to increase awareness. But awareness can only go so far when it’s not coupled with money. Funding can support more research on testing and treatment, as well additional tick collection and testing.
We hope lawmakers recognize this serious problem and continue to provide the necessary awareness and financing necessary to combat it.