Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Lyme could happen to you

Lyme disease appears truly invisible — starting from the seemingly innocent bite of a tick as small as a poppy seed.

Those who suffer in silence from its ravages look fairly healthy. But the reality is that the widespread lack of accurate information, particularly about the urgent need for simple and available prompt treatment, condemns thousands of people in our county to the risk of needless suffering, debilitating illness and chronic struggle that could easily be avoided.

Bill Morem’s recent articles, and the letters to The Tribune which he provoked, demonstrate the importance of prevention, early diagnosis and treatment. Spending a great deal of time meeting with people suffering with Lyme has made clear the urgent fact that this is not a possible or hypothetical issue, but a fact of daily life in our community.

I have had an all too vivid and direct experience of this disease for more than two years, the result of a single bite from a tick. That simple exposure is all it took to acquire the organism that causes the disease. I know of others, verified by laboratory testing, who had been exposed to this debilitating condition right here during a hike on San Luis Mountain.

The difference between my chronic illness and another person, who may have escaped without being infected, is the prompt attention of a “Lyme-literate” doctor, and the taking of a prescribed course of medication with an appropriate antibiotic. No one should be subjected to this health crisis when knowledge and medication — when timely taken in the first days after the bite — can prevent the disease from developing.

After listening to the stories of many people who have Lyme, it is clear that the patterns of onset of symptoms vary tremendously. For me, there was no bull’s-eye rash or pain of any kind, and no flulike symptoms immediately following the bite, symptoms often regarded by the uninformed as essential to a possible infection.

My physician in San Luis Obispo said there was no need to test or treat me for Lyme disease, despite my timely request for assistance. At the time of the bite I was already experiencing some joint pain, sweating and fatigue, which I associated with menopause. Despite this status, had the doctor taken a cautious approach and begun a simple course of antibiotics, the standard treatment recommended by doctors familiar with treating Lyme, the routine outcome — avoidance of being infected — would have likely been accomplished.

Instead, no treatment began, and my symptoms developed a year later, when they became debilitating. What followed was a protracted, costly treatment; the escalation of bodily aches and a range of serious symptoms that could have been avoided. Fortunately, I was referred to a Lyme-literate doctor and began treatment in June of 2010.

My lifestyle has dramatically shifted because of the disease. I work hard to overcome this avoidable travail and maintain a physically active lifestyle, with some modifications.

The key point is that it all could have been avoided by knowledge and simple, conventional use of the tools at hand. Ignorance is the real source of the problem.

Later, when an out-of-town visitor was bitten, we were far wiser about assessment and treatment. We sent the tick off to the leading laboratory in the western U.S., IGeneX Inc. in Palo Alto, where it was verified as positive for Lyme disease, allowing a course of treatment to promptly begin, avoiding the development of any disease symptoms.

Prevention, early informed diagnosis and treatment are essential. Please educate yourself and others by accessing the many websites that provide information, available by Google search for CALDA, Lyme Times or LymeMD.

Don’t be misled into believing that Lyme cannot happen to you. Seek timely treatment from a Lyme-literate practitioner. The Award-winning film “Under Our Skin” is now available on Netflix and offers an eye-opening insight to the risks and dangers from this simple, silent bite. Pamela Stein is a resident of San Luis Obispo.