Lyme disease strikes local teen

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Whitetail deer are the main carriers of adult blacklegged ticks, which survive in humid environments as well as wooded and grassy areas. (Press photo by Melissa Spielbauer Combs)

By Molly Moser

Though it isn’t routine, Dr. Jeff Hoffmann of Cornerstone Family Practice says he’s been seeing more cases of Lyme disease in his office. 

Spread by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease infects an estimated 300,000 people each year in the United States. Symptoms begin between three and 30 days after a bite, and 70 to 80 percent of people who’ve been infected will develop a rash. Fevers may also occur.

“Lyme disease is curable if you treat it early enough,” said Hoffmann. “Normally it is treated with antibiotics for anywhere from 10 days to six weeks. If the disease isn’t caught early enough, then the patient may need long-term antibiotic treatment.”

Long-term effects of Lyme disease include chronic arthralgias (joint pain), myalgias (muscle pain), fatigue, neurological deficits, cardiac abnormalities, skin and eye abnormalities, as well as abnormalities with the liver or kidneys.

Local 13-year-old Buck Wachendorf was recently diagnosed with the disease after being bitten by a tick. He enjoys the outdoors, spending time fishing and working outside, and his mother, Pam, estimates that two to three weeks passed between the time he was bitten and the time he started to show symptoms of Lyme disease. “I was kind of tired, had a headache, neck pain, joint pain, and I was dizzy, too,” said Wachendorf. 

“Luckily, we did see the bullseye,” his mom told The Press. “If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t have known what I was dealing with.” She noticed a red circle about three inches in diameter on his back when her son removed his shirt to go swimming, and called a friend for advice. Before the mark appeared, she’d been bringing Buck to the chiropractor for his aches and pains. “If you start getting neck pain and headaches, you should consider Lyme disease,” she advised in hindsight. “The tick is so teeny that you don’t feel it. You should do a full body search on a regular basis.” 

Checking for ticks is an important part of prevention, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, on the backs of knees, in and around the head and anywhere there is hair, between the legs and around the waist. Clothes and pets should also be checked carefully. If a tick is found, it can be removed with a fine-tipped tweezers. Finding ticks within 24 hours of attachment means the risk of Lyme disease is very small.

Blacklegged ticks survive in humid environments, especially in wooded or grassy areas. Tick-free zones can be created by clearing tall grasses, brush and leaves from around the home. Removing plants that attract deer and building deer barriers is also recommended, as deer are the main carriers of adult ticks. 

Tick-control chemicals are also available, both for back yards and for personal use. For skin, Medical Associates recommends a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin. Products containing permethrin can be used on clothing and gear, and will remain protective through several washings. Drying clothes on high heat will kill any ticks on clothing.

Buck is feeling better after three weeks of antibiotics and proper hydration. To others with the diagnosis, he says, “You’ll get through it, it’ll just take a while.” He plans to take a probiotic to help rebalance his system.

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