Beware of Lyme disease
Illnesses from infected insects on the rise
A sting in the middle of the night was followed by a week in the hospital. Doctors struggled to find what was wrong with Jared Lochtowe of Minot. For a time it was thought he might lose a foot.
“I got sick right after the sting,” said Lochtowe. “I kept telling the doctor it wasn’t a tick that got me sick. They did every test they could possibly do.”
Lochtowe was stung by a red wasp, a flying insect that is not common in North Dakota. The sting was severe, causing swelling and redness around the location of the sting. However, it was not believed the wasp sting was the real cause of Lochtowe’s problems.
“The doctors were confused at first,” said Lochtowe. “They were looking for a bullseye from a tick bite.”
A bullseye appearance radiating from a tick bite can occur and is an indicator of Lyme disease, but a bullseye on the skin is not always present. In fact, says Laura Cronquist, North Dakota Department of Health, a tick carrying Lyme disease can be very small and leave no mark, pain, itching or anything else to indicate transmission of disease from a tick to a human. Additionally, symptoms of Lyme disease may not become apparent until two or three weeks after a tick bite.
“The deer tick is the only known vector for Lyme disease in the state,” said Cronquist. “The wasp sting could just be coincidence. I’ve never heard of anyone getting Lyme disease that way. A tick is the only likely explanation.”
Identifying Lyme disease is challenging, even for medical professionals. It is often misdiagnosed as a variety of other possibilities from chronic fatigue syndrome to depression. Dr. Casmiarl Nwaigwe, Infectious Disease Specialist, treated Lochtowe at Minot’s Trinity Hospital. Working with the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, he discovered that Lochtowe indeed had Lyme disease.
“They immediately did an emergency surgery to get the infection of my foot,” said Lochtowe. “I had two surgeries.”
Lochtowe has fully recovered from his harrowing experience in mid-April. He is fortunate. Lochtowe remembers getting out of bed and falling flat on his face.
“I thought I had a broken ankle,” said Lochtowe.
He didn’t. It was Lyme disease taking over his system. Recovery sometimes ranges from weeks to months. Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. If not treated the disease can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to avoid ticks altogether. However, that’s much easier said than done. Ticks can be found virtually anywhere from grassy areas to bushes and trees.
The use of preventive measures can reduce the chances of ticks on the body. Insect repellents are helpful. Keeping lawns mowed is important too. Doing so reduces tick habitat. Clothes should be washed after spending a day outside.
Also, it appears, the frequency of tick encounters is on the rise in the United States. The Center for Disease Control says an average of 30,000 cases of Lyme disease is reported each year and the number of illnesses caused from infected insects tripled from 2004 through 2016.
Recently, in an effort to increase awareness of tick borne diseases, the CDC released a photograph through Twitter that showed tiny nymph stage deer ticks crawling on a lemon poppyseed muffin. The image went viral with many viewers saying they would never again eat a poppyseed muffin. Others reacted favorably to the comparison.
“Typically it’s the nymph stage of the deer tick that spreads Lyme disease,” said Cronquist. “They are so small.”
The Department of Health began a tick surveillance program in North Dakota last year and is continuing the effort this year. So far it has been learned that about 80 percent of all ticks tested were carrying an infectious disease. There was 56 cases of Lyme disease reported in the state last year.