When you think of illnesses spread by ticks, Lyme Disease probably comes to mind. It makes sense. After all, it’s arguably the most publicly discussed tick-borne illness, at least in the United States and especially here in Pennsylvania.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Lyme Disease statistics, the Keystone State is one of the 14 states listed responsible for 95% of all confirmed Lyme Disease cases in 2015. According to a 2016 article from Physicians Weekly, Pennsylvania came in at #5 as one of the 12 worst states for Lyme Disease. PA had the highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2014. There were 50.6 cases of the disease for every 100,000 state residents, more than in all but four other states on the list.
With all the data, charts, lists and numbers that point to our home state as being the big, bad wolf for Lyme Disease, chances are likely you or someone you love has been affected by the illness. However, Lyme Disease is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to tick-borne illness. It seems as though the ever-evolving tick is responsible for the spread of a new illness or bacteria every season. This year’s culprit is Powassan Virus, also known as POW. POW is a viral infection that can impact the nervous system, memory, thinking and balance.
With the plethora of new diseases, new facts and findings on the rise, many PA residents have become numb to the warnings that accompany tick-borne illness. Many take the mindset of “oh, I am careful, that will never happen to me.” However, NOTHING could be farther from the truth.
Here is the true story of a member of our own marketing team’s brush with tick-borne illness:
The rash popped up on a typical warm, spring day while having a relaxing conversation with the Mother of one of my daughter’s closest friends. A play date for our girls. Some much-needed friend time for me. A win/win from all angles. The rash, which was brought to my attention by the Mother of my daughter’s friend was along the top of my arms and legs. I brushed it off as a little sensitivity to outdoor allergens, or even the sun, with me having such a fair complexion. The rash came and went without any cause for concern.
Then came the headaches. I have a history of migraines, so having a headache is just the “norm” for me. Anyone who has a history of migraines knows what to do and what is the best way to overcome one. My recipe for recovery is a dark cool room, headache medicine and a nap — Worked like a charm and again, as with the rash, I went on with my life without any cause for concern.
The timing of the appearance of the rash and the headaches were in line with my beloved Father becoming gravely ill. In early May of this same year, he was rushed to the hospital with what was thought to be a stroke. His illness turned out to be much more. I was his sole caregiver and began my ride on the roller coaster of emotions, exhaustion and difficult decisions.
It was at this point when I started to feel lethargic. All I wanted to do was sleep. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I was about two-weeks into my Father’s three-month hospital stay when these feelings began. Naturally, I chalked it up to being up day and night at the hospital helping to care for him. You see, my Father was not only diagnosed with having a prior stroke, but he was also diagnosed with dementia, heart issues and Alzheimer’s. Some days he was lucid and some days he was not. I wanted to make sure I was there on the days (and nights), he was my “Dad” again, even if it was only for a fleeting moment.
As the weeks turned into months, my Father’s health deteriorated. During my endless trips to the hospital and back home, day and night. I went through a series of what I can look back on and clearly see as symptoms of a tick-borne illness. These included:
- Huge dark circles under both of my eyes — which I blamed on a lack of sleep.
- Nausea and lack of appetite — I blamed this on the traumatic life event I was going through.
- A strange feeling like being “turned inside out” — Again, I blamed this on the situation and seeing my Father’s health continue to decline.
My Father passed away in August of that year. I felt horrible. I was heartbroken, sad and grieving the loss of the most amazing man I ever knew. Two weeks after his funeral, on a Sunday afternoon. I arose from watching TV on the couch and realized at that point something physical was wrong with me — I could not walk without stumbling from side to side, my balance was completely gone. I have never had vertigo, nor is there a history of it in my family. I immediately contacted my doctor. I was his first patient that very next Monday morning.
Diagnosis: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Amongst our team we also have a mother, father, brother and a niece who have also experienced tick -borne illness first hand. Infection can affect each person very differently, from the textbook symptoms to being sick and not even knowing you’re infected until the illness reaches a critical stage. Mosquito Squad of Chester & Delaware Counties is quick to point out that symptoms for tick-borne illnesses vary depending on the pathogen, but the most common are fever and chills, aches, and rashes.
Vector-borne illness is real. It can happen to you or a member of your family. Mosquitoes and ticks are not picky about their host(s), and just like playing a game of Russian roulette these vectors are unidentifiable and can strike anyone, at any time. The best way to avoid infection is through education, prevention and control.