Lyme Disease with its causes, cures and symptoms is a difficult disease to diagnose. Climate changes are helping to spread the tick which causes this disease to far flung places where it has never been before – and where Doctors are not familiar with it. Lyme Disease is rapidly approaching epidemic status! Peter Lauricella will tell you how to recognize the symptoms of Lyme Disease and what to do about it.
Peter Lauricella has been a member of UUCD for several years. Peter and his wife, Marilyn, lived most of their lives in Boston, Massachusetts before relocating to Port Perry. His hobbies include woodturning and playing the 5 string banjo. He is a volunteer with Durham Hospice, is a member of the Board of Scugog Council for the Arts, is Chair of The Lake Scugog Studio Tour and, at UUCD, serves on the Worship Committee and is a frequent service leader.
The complete sermon can be read below:
Lyme Disease, frequently just called Lyme, is a vector disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is a corkscrew shaped bacteria called a spirochete. It is similar in shape to, and is in the same family as syphilis. Lyme symptoms vary widely from one person to another, from simple flu like headache, fever and cold sweats, to symptoms as serious as ALS and Alzheimer's Disease. It can attack multiple parts of the body simultaneously – making it difficult to diagnose. If caught quickly, it can be treated and the bacteria eradicated with a simple penicillin type antibiotic. But if unrecognized and untreated it can develop into a nasty, stubborn, debilitating disease.
Having lived in Massachusetts for most of my life, I became familiar with the significance of Lyme Disease many years ago. Frequently, in the summer months, the state or local governments would spray almost all neighborhood areas with powerful insecticides in an attempt to control mosquito and tick populations. The spraying was done methodically and deliberately sometimes by air using specially modified airplanes equipped with tanks to hold and nozzles to spray a control agent. Other times, a large truck would drive through the town spraying a large misty cloud. The truck would have a loud speaker system and a voice would ask you to keep your children and pets indoors for the remainder of the evening. For several days before the spraying, public service announcements would run on the local cable tv channel and ads could be seen in the local newspaper. Barbeques would be cancelled and high school football practices reduced or restricted. Hikes through the woods would be reconsidered. People were aware that Lyme Disease was no joke. It was serious, and the deer tick was public enemy #1
Checking oneself and checking each other was the rule, not the exception. After mowing the grass or working in the yard or garden or walking the dog, a self exam was a must. Many times the results were that a tick was found and removed. When we immigrated to Canada, we were confidently told by friends and neighbors that Canada had no ticks, as the winters were too cold and they were all killed off. We breathed a sigh of relief. But a solid medical background and inquisitive minds prompted my wife and I to inquire to knowledgeable sources. We discovered that the tick population is increasing and spreading rapidly and that the deer tick was in fact, a serious threat to Canadian pets and people alike.
Several years ago, a Canadian friend of our daughter's after being unsuccessfully treated in Canada, visited a doctor in Buffalo, New York. She was tested and told that she had Lyme Disease and must be treated with antibiotics. To some extent, relieved to have a diagnosis, she immediately made an appointment with her Canadian physician only to be told that she could not be treated here because the test that was administered was was invalid – not recognized – in Canada. She asked her Canadian doctor to test her, but the Ministry of Health had no approved test for Lyme Disease.
Without a recognized test result, the doctor could not legally prescribe the antibiotics necessary for successful treatment. The woman, a young mother with two small children, had to take time off work to drive to Buffalo NY for treatment, at her own expense. The transportation costs, the doctor's visit and the prescriptions had to be paid out of pocket. Happily, that scenario happens less frequently today, as the MOH has recognized the severity of the disease and now offers a simple blood test to detect the antibody for Lyme.
Lyme Disease got its name from the town in which the first few cases of this disease were diagnosed: Lyme, Connecticut. Initially, 37 children – all living within a short distance of each other – were diagnosed with similar flu-like symptoms, including aching joints, eye pain, confusion, fever and headaches. It has spread rapidly through the New England states and into the mid-Atlantic area and in the upper mid-west: Minnesota and Wisconsin. 96% of the cases of Lyme are concentrated in 13 states. But it is spreading.
When Lyme was initially recognized the symptoms were thought to be fever, headache, fatigue, aching joints, and a bull's eye rash at the site of infection. But people often associate many of these symptoms with other illnesses. If left untreated, infection can spread to other joints, even migrate, can affect the heart and other organs, and the nervous system. It can be successfully treated with a penicillin like antibiotic, but this disease can be hard to identify as the symptoms can mimic other serious disorders like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and even Alzheimer's Disease.
The US Center for Disease Control estimated that 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme every year; that's 300,000 people in 13 states! How many will be diagnosed and treated when Lyme reaches all 50 states? Canadians are not immune; Lyme does not recognize any borders. Furthermore, it has been found that not all cases of Lyme present with the (once classic) bull's eye rash. In fact, about 50% show the rash. Others show no rash at all or a different rash, sometimes at the site of infection, sometimes not.
How did Lyme really start? Some researchers suggest that Lyme started in Europe many years ago. It was found that Otzi The Iceman, the 5300 year old mummy discovered along the Italian-
Austrian border in the Alps in 1991 had contracted Lyme. Very confusing! But how did the current outbreak start? How did 37 children all in the same general area in Lyme CT, come down with the symptoms of, what was then identified as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis?
One tantalizing, but compelling and controversial theory revolves around the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Located on Long Island Sound, it was originally operated by the US Army, then by the Dep't of Agriculture, and now by the Dep't of Homeland Security. Its official mandate is defense research related to agricultural bioterrorism. Michael Carroll authored a book titled Lab 257 which cites post WW2 experiments on Plum Island that involved using ticks as disease vectors for germ warfare. The Plum Island Center is a mere 8 miles across Long Island Sound from Lyme CT. Is it possible an accidental release of some sort could have started this whole thing? Of course, the US gov't denies this, but.....
Up until recently, it was thought that Lyme was transmitted ONLY by a bite from the deer tick – now known as the black legged tick. This is not true. It is now clear that spiders, ticks, mites, fleas and some mosquitoes transmit Lyme as well. In addition, there is credible evidence that Lyme can be spread through the bedroom. In some studies, identical strains of Lyme were found in husbands and wives, suggesting that it was passed from one to the other. There are also some cases of children acquiring Lyme congenitally during or prior to birth.
The medical establishment is slow to recognize things that seem apparent to us, as documentation and repeatabiity are important components of research. Initially, experiments regarding sexual transmission in rats showed that Lyme was not transmitted sexually. But people are not rats and Lyme apparently acts differently in people.
Lyme and your pets. Lyme affects most animals as ticks will hitch a ride and take advantage of the opportunity to gorge themselves on a dog or cat or rodent. For brevity, I will only discuss Lyme in dogs and only briefly. Dogs frequently catch Lyme. Younger dogs and Retrievers and Bermese Mountain Dogs seem more susceptible than most adult dogs. In severe cases kidney problems can arise, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, lack of appetite, and joint pain. Treatment includes antibiotics but in many cases, the joint pain persists even after all bacteria have been eradicated. A vaccine for dogs does exist; consult you vet for information. While it is unclear that humans can catch Lyme from dogs, ticks can sometimes enter the home by riding on a dog and could then infect a person. So -check your dog thoroughly and completely and comb and groom often, especially in spring and summer.
Lyme has spread from one coastal town in CT to the entire Northeast and mid-Atlanic states and in the upper mid west. It is in heavy concentrations on the northern shores of the great Lakes and St Lawrence River. As it has spread, its symptoms have increased and now include fatigue, sleep disturbances, alarmingly diminished memory and concentration, headaches, light headedness, irritability, chest pain, joint pain, fibromyalgia and paresthesis.
With so many symptoms in so many areas, it is difficult to diagnose. In addition, physicians can mistakenly rule out Lyme in cases where patients have had prior treatment for it. The Lyme bacteria can bore into a cell and hide there for extended periods of time, keeping somewhat safe from the pursuit of antibiotics, only to emerge at a later date, after the antibiotics have run their course. Another round of antibiotics would be appropriate, but the medical field warns against the extended use of drugs as the bacteria are sure to evolve into an antibiotic resistant strain. This cycle can repeat itself for years, even decades, resulting in near perpetual active infections in different parts of the body.
Sometimes, a person with chronic Lyme can be tested, found to be negative, administered antibiotics anyway, and then re-tested afterward and found to be positive. This made no sense! How could one be tested AFTER the antibiotics and found +, when she was negative first? This is a terribly confusing condition.
The classic sign of Lyme had been thought to be the presence of the bull's eye rash at the site of the infection. No rash – no Lyme. NOT TRUE. The rash can either be absent or atypical in over 50% of cases. The rash can take different forms or there can be multiple rashes – different types in different places near or far away from the infection site. Rashes that appear in multiple places suggest the bacteria has spread to different organs and sites through the bloodstream. The early stages of Lyme present similarly to the flu – and doctors generally suggest rest at home. These symptoms may present right away or it could take days, months, even years to show symptoms, as the spirochete are adept at evading the immune system and can remain dormant for years.
In chronic cases, the following symptoms – in any combination – can occur, fade, return and migrate from one part of the body to another: fatigue, headaches, fevers and/or chills, night sweats, gastrointestinal distress, swollen glands and/or sore throat, stiff neck, joint and muscle pain, back pain, jaw pain, chest pain and palpitations, cranial nerve disturbance: tingling sensation or numbness,sleep disturbance problems with concentration and memory, psychiatric manifestations: depression, mood swings, irritability, tinnitis, vertigo, testicular or pelvic pain.
This is a partial listing. How would you feel if your joints ached and/or you had memory problems and couldn't remember important phone numbers and/or had relentless pounding headaches that your doctor and other doctors couldn't treat and control? What would happen to your faith in God or your fellow man if you were constantly nauseous or ran a temperature or felt like you had the flu, not for a few days, but for weeks or months? Would you be uncomfortable, lack motivation, “mope around the house”? Would your attendance at work and your job performance suffer? And would the loss of your job have catastrophic financial consequences? How would you feel if you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's or ALS – Lou Gehrig's Disease and lived with that gloomy diagnosis for years – sure that you were dying – despite all the pills and visits to the doctors?
In our 7 Principles which are listed on our Order of Service and are in the front of our hymnals, there is much about our bond with our fellow man. Lyme Disease with its come and go nature, with its ability to mimic other diseases, with its ability to hide inside a cell – even bind with one's DNA – and remain there, dormant, for years plays not only a significant physical health threat, but is a mental health threat as well. It is a double threat. There are presently over 100 different strains of Lyme in North America and over 300 worldwide. Because the tiny ticks, fleas, spiders and mosquitoes sometimes hitch a ride on a migrating bird, the scene is set for this to be become pandemic very soon.
Our best defense is to check ourselves thoroughly after walking outdoors or hiking or even standing in a field watching a soccer or baseball game. And remember to spray for mosquitos. You will surely be hearing more about Lyme from medical professionals and community sources or concerned citizens. Two excellent movies about Lyme Disease: how it affects people and what the medical establishment is doing (or not doing) about it are: UNDER OUR SKIN and UNDER OUR SKIN 2 Both are available on DVD or on you-tube.
Spread the word: It is time to stop Lyme.
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