Doctors couldn’t explain middle schooler Michaela Petsy’s severe headaches and stomach issues. Nor could they pinpoint the cause of her increasing anxiety—which turned sometimes into crippling bouts of depression. An enthusiastic student of karate, her wrists began to hurt so badly that she had to stop practicing. She was having difficulty concentrating, felt exhausted all the time, and became so sensitive to light that she couldn’t leave the house without wearing sunglasses.
Noise made her crazy, and she was almost always irritable for no reason. “I pretty much lost all my friends,” she says.
In 2013, after two years of chasing a constellation of symptoms that didn’t really make sense for any single malady, Petsy tested positive for Lyme disease—joining the ranks of more than 300,000 people in the U.S. diagnosed each year with this elusive disease.
Lyme is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi that’s transmitted to humans by a tiny black-legged tick (sometimes called a deer tick) common throughout the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Northern California.
Within the first days and weeks of infection, people may (but not always) develop a round, red-ringed rash and flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, and headaches.
As the bacteria moves into the deeper systems of the body, people may experience, in no particular order: arthritic symptoms, Bell’s palsy, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, sensitivity to light and noise, nerve pain, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, hepatitis, neuropathy, and cognitive dysfunction.