A small group of local volunteers is spreading the word about ticks and Lyme disease.
“We are trying to not let this be a silent disease anymore,” said Keila Barrett, president of the Chambersburg Lyme Alliance.
She has been tying green ribbons around trees this May, Lyme Awareness Month. The group’s effort has the support of Summit Health and Chambersburg Area School District.
“As a leading healthcare provider in the area, Summit Health wanted to help spread awareness of such an important health-related message,” said Barbara Rossini, vice president of community relations for Summit Health. “We believe that helping members of our community learn more information about the risks associated with tick-borne illnesses can help lower the number of local cases.”
Pennsylvania has led the nation in the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease for the past three years, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Deer ticks, which spread the disease, have been found in all 67 Pennsylvania counties. The most recent data shows that Pennsylvania in 2014 had 7,400 confirmed cases, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier.
“We need research and accurate testing,” Barrett said. “Meanwhile people who suffer from it are going broke and dying from Lyme disease.”
Barrett began showing symptoms of Lyme disease in October 2013, but doctors didn’t make the diagnosis for months. The disease attacked several of her body systems. She was fatigued. She suffered seizures. She was losing her sight. She couldn’t do her job. Compiling a grocery list for dinner was difficult as was remembering where the groceries were located in the store.
She paid for a special Lyme test out of her own pocket. It came back positive in July 2014, and she contacted other people suffering from the disease to find a doctor who would treat her.
“I’m still on treatment,” Barrett said. “I’ve had a PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) line of high doses of antibiotics three times.”
She was able on Monday, after several rest periods, to mow her grass with a riding mower for the first time in three years.
Barrett said that somebody needed to start talking about the disease.
“I thought we needed a group to spread awareness and to tell people about Lyme disease,” she said. “We’re not a support group. There’s not a cure for Lyme disease. You’re going to live with it for the rest of your life. Insurance usually doesn’t cover it. You’re going to go broke taking care of yourself.”