PHOTO: American dog tick

You should care, and be aware, that the number of ticks and the nasty diseases they carry and transmit, are rising sharply.

The problem is that most people don’t tend to give it a second thought when they remove a tick from themselves or their loved ones. Worse still is that doctors are known to misdiagnose the symptoms of tick-borne illness and are thereby fooled into mistreating the actual ailment.

The experiences of people in the region suffering from what turned out to be tick-borne illnesses have been described in graphic detail in recent stories, printed in the Star-Exponent, by Free Lance–Star reporter Cathy Dyson.

Each merciless step of the journey these victims and their loved ones have endured is a nightmare in itself, from a series of doctors visits and misdiagnoses, to the trial-and-error treatments, to the threat of financial ruin, to the uncertainty about whether life will ever be the same—if they indeed survive.

Climate change is being blamed for the increases in tick populations and reported tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, as wider areas become more hospitable to the insects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of counties in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States that are considered high risk for Lyme disease increased by more than 300 percent between 1993 and 2012.

Lyme disease is most easily treated when caught early, but other, less familiar tick-borne illnesses remain difficult to diagnose and treat.

As more study and long-term research is conducted, the more frustrating and frightening the situation becomes. One local woman’s experience suggests that a disease transmitted by a tick bite received when one is young can remain dormant for decades, thanks to a robust immune system, only to emerge when that person ages or develops a compromised immune system.

Another victim who contracted what has been diagnosed as Rocky Mountain spotted fever from a tick bite in his own yard has now had a portion of an affected foot amputated. The condition has cost him his business, left his caregiving wife in tears and, largely due to being uninsured, left their finances in tatters.

The CDC cites an increase in reported Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases from 495 in 2000 to 6,248 in 2017—a more than 12-fold increase.

Research done by California-based IGeneX Inc., a private company that specializes in diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne illnesses, should raise anyone’s concerns. For example, if the malady caused by a tick bite is not remedied early by initial treatments, the company found that more than a third of patients end up spending more than $10,000 on continuing treatments and associated costs. Another 27 percent spend between $5,000 and $10,000.

It took 45 percent of patients more than three years to get the proper diagnosis and treatment. And 65 percent were forced to quit a job or cut back on their employment hours as a result.

A quarter of patients have seen more than 10 doctors in pursuit of a successful diagnosis and treatment.

For three-quarters of patients, the traditional two-step testing process failed to provide a successful diagnosis. A vast majority of patients (86 percent) suffer long-term side effects due to misdiagnosis and delayed treatment, such as joint pain, headaches, numbness and cognitive issues.

What all this means is that thanks to the research that’s been done and the ordeals previous victims have been through, today’s tick-bite victims have some advantages.

People should know to practice prevention by applying insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and tucking pants legs into their socks.

They should know to check themselves for ticks after being outdoors in the woods or grassy areas, and perhaps ask someone to check their scalp for them.

If a tick is found crawling or embedded, it should be removed carefully, sealed it in a plastic bag and sent for testing. Symptoms of Lyme disease can be felt as soon as three days after a bite.

Dogs can be tick magnets, and they can bring ticks indoors. They should be checked periodically.

Stories of life-changing and life-threatening experiences involving ticks are proliferating. People would do well to take the threat seriously and do what they can to protect themselves and pursue treatment early if symptoms develop.

—The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

Twitter: @FLS_Opinion

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