Ticking Off

Jacki and Graci Gillen

Oh deer, it’s almost that season again.  Summer is coming and with it an abundance of ticks.  Not all, but some ticks bring with them a disease that is all too common in areas with a high population of deer: Lyme disease.

Deer ticks can carry a bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted from a bite into the bloodstream.  The blood carries the bacteria to several different bodily tissues, where the bacteria makes a nice home for themselves.

“Everyone in my family has had Lyme disease except for me,” Jacki Gillen, an UMPI student, said.

Her sister, gram and both of her cousins had to be treated for the disease.

In 80 percent of cases, Lyme disease starts with an expanding rash at the site of the tick bite.  The rash looks like a bulls-eye and is not usually itchy or painful.  It can be warm to the touch.

As the disease progresses, other symptoms pop up.  Other rashes may appear at differing non-bite locations.  It can cause aches and pains in the joints, give headaches, fevers of 102 and severe fatigue.

“For my gram, she would get headaches and you could tell that there was just something wrong with her,” Jacki said.

Her sister, 11-year-old Graci, was diagnosed at age 3.

“She was treated for 11 months, then she was treated for the symptoms again at age 6,” Trudi, the girl’s mother, said.  “It was really scary and frustrating because there was so much controversy on how to treat it.  Some doctors (pediatrics) would only treat it until symptoms go away, others continued treatment.  Graci was sick from it.  She had sore legs, diarrhea, very tired and had no appetite.  The antibiotics messed with her stomach as well.”

When symptoms get worse they can cause a mental fog with people being unable to finish sentences.  They can also feel dizzy and have short-term memory loss.  The hands and feet can lose feeling.  Joints can become inflamed and painful with arthritis.

“I haven’t had it yet, but with my luck, I’ll probably get it this summer,” Jacki said.

Luckily the disease can be treated to a full cure.  Treatment should start within three weeks of contracting the disease.  If treatment is delayed, then the chances of a full cure are not as likely.

“I was patient.  I waited for the medicine to actually work and I watched a lot of TV,” Graci said.

In some cases, the symptoms of Lyme disease can last months after it is cured.

“I had good days.  They were like I wasn’t tired and groggy and I didn’t have a headache and I didn’t feel like sleeping all the time. Bad days were I had a headache and I was sore all the time and I was groggy,” Graci said.

“Every day was rough.  It’s a floating bacterium.  When you think it’s gone, it would float to a different part of the body and something else would flare up,” Trudi said.

Ticks that carry the disease can only be spread by contact.  They cannot jump or fly.  Hosts are animals of all different species from birds, to dogs, to humans.

“After being treated 11 months, she got better. When the symptoms came back at age 6, she started getting yeast infections and multiple other symptoms came back. It took a fair amount of time after being treated a second time for her to feel like herself again,” Trudi said.

The best way to prevent from getting the disease is to limit contact with soil, leaves on the ground and vegetation.  For pet owners, the best approach is flea medication, which also helps prevent ticks.  Ticks can spread in the house if they come into contact with loveable pets.

Graci’s home is on a dirt road surrounded by woods and a small pond.  The pond is often too dirty to swim in.  There is plenty of room for a little girl and her dog Diego to play and have fun.