Lyme Disease: Tick Bites Might Seem Harmless But One Women Tells Of Their Catastrophic Health Consequences
For the September issue of STELLAR, we investigated the enigma that is Lyme Disease and discovered other Lyme-like diseases too. We spoke with reader Hannah, who was bitten three years ago, about her experience.
Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection carried by ticks found in woodland areas and tall grasses, and according to Tick Talk Ireland, it’s fast becoming one of the most common diseases in Europe. In STELLAR’s September issue we examine the ambiguity surrounding the condition as well as the delay in diagnosis due to symptoms which resemble a whole host of other syndromes and sicknesses.
According to Dr John Lambert, Infectious Disease Specialist at the Mater Hospital, “patients with a tick bite might have atypical histories and test negative for Lyme Disease. However, they could have a Lyme-like disease caused by a different bacteria, such as Bartonella, Rickettsia or Anaplasma.”
This was true in Hannah’s case and here, the 33 year old from Wicklow, tells us about the challenges she’s faced pre- and-post diagnosis.
“In May 2012, I was in a forest in Wicklow when I got bitten on my ankle. It was itchy, red and raised, and I ended up going to the GP. I was told it was probably a horsefly bite and given a prescription for antibiotics – I ended up taking three days worth of tablets. Even if I’d finished the five-day course, it wouldn’t have made any difference – it was the wrong drug.
“I got progressively sicker over that summer. I used to be a runner – and I say used to be because I can’t do it anymore – I’d just come fourth in a marathon. Since that though, I was tired, dizzy and nauseous, my legs were really heavy; they didn’t feel like they belonged to me. When I was running my heart rate was rising so fast even when I wasn’t going very hard.
“I was admitted to hospital, but they couldn’t find out what was wrong with me. I was in bed all the time, I could hardly lift my head up my headaches were so severe, and I thought, ‘maybe I’ve a brain tumour’. I went to the GP again – this time it was a locum and after listening to all my symptoms, she said, ‘I think you’ve got Lyme Disease’. I said, ‘What’s that?’ – I’d never heard of it.
It has a name
“At the time I was relieved because all the doctors were telling me, ‘your blood tests are normal, you’re lazy, you’ve got depression’. I was thinking, why would I be depressed? I’ve got two gorgeous kids and my own business. Then the doubt creeps in, you start to think, maybe I’m imagining all the symptoms.
“I saw Dr Lambert who was pretty confident that I had a bacterial infection. Two weeks later my bloods came back positive for Spotted Fever Rickettsia – a tick born disease. Whether I’d Lyme Disease plus the infection, I’ll never know. I think if I hadn’t been diagnosed, I’d be dead now.
“My consultant prescribed doxycycline (an antibiotic) every day, twice a day. I was really ill for the first few weeks and then I started to feel better. I had been fainting all the time and had tremors, like my hands would shake as if I had Parkinsons, and that stopped straight away. Slowly my other symptoms started to reduce as well.
“I was on that drug from October 2012 until about May 2013 and I felt I was better. However, the only way to test if you really are better is to come off the drug. At that point my running was going well, I had bounced back to fitness and I was getting personal bests so I was pretty convinced the illness was behind me.
Time to try again
“Unfortunately, by the end of that year, my symptoms returned. Dr Lambert thinks I relapsed because there was still some bacteria left in my system which started to multiply. Now I’m pretty much back to where I started and taking a combination of three different antibiotics.
“I’m really struggling to get back to normal. It’s much slower this time because I had a break from the treatment. At this stage, I don’t know if the damage that’s already been done is permanent, or whether I’ll continue to improve and get back to full health – it’s a really difficult disease.
“The longer it goes on, the harder it is to treat and the more you feel like you’re never going to come out the other side. I’ve my ups and downs, there are days where I just cry. But I can walk and I still have my own fitness and weight loss business – although I don’t know how I’ve managed it through some of the weeks!
“It’s been a long and slow recovery, it’s very, very hard to see any improvement when you’re in the thick of it. I’m trying to focus on the rest of this year and maybe next year I’ll be back running on the road.”
For more on Lyme disease, including how to protect yourself from ticks when you’re out and about, pick up STELLAR’s September issue.