Is This Tick to Blame?

It’s a sunny summer day and you’re hiking in the woods with friends. You’re pretty far from home and haven’t seen anyone else on the trail in a while. You start to get nervous—should you turn back? Are you lost? Are there bears around? Then one of your prankster friends starts telling a ghost story, and you are not having it. But while you’re freaking out about the prospect of bears or ghosts, there’s a hidden danger you’re probably not even thinking about: ticks. The tiny-as-sesame-seeds arachnids latch on to people and pets and can carry Lyme disease.

Lyme is passed on to humans via tick bites. The bacterial infection caused by the bite typically starts with a rash, and many people also experience symptoms that mimic the flu, like fever, body aches, or fatigue. Antibiotics can cure most cases of Lyme, but if left untreated, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, such as the nervous system and joints. That’s why it’s important to diagnose the disease early on.

Unfortunately, Lyme disease is a growing problem. Since the late 1990s, the number of cases in the U.S. has more than tripled. Climate change may be partially responsible: Warmer temperatures and mild winters allow ticks to thrive and settle in new locations.

Roughly 300,000 people contract Lyme each year. The teens on these pages missed their first signs of the disease. But hopefully, reading their stories can help prevent you from doing the same.

How Dangerous is Lyme Disease?
Duration: 4:12 | What is this disease and is it really that deadly?

I was in the second grade when I first started to feel gross. My body was all achy, I was exhausted, and I could barely hold my head up—it felt like the flu. My parents took me to the doctor, but no one could figure out what was going on. Then I started having other health issues, like a tremor in my right hand. It was so scary!

I saw another doctor, and then another. . .it took 18 months before someone diagnosed me with Lyme disease. I’d never heard of Lyme before—I didn’t even know how to spell it—and when I think about it, I’m not even sure where the tick bit me. I never saw the red bull’s-eye mark that most people get.

I was given a 30-day treatment of antibiotics, and by day five I was feeling like myself again. (Even my teachers noticed!) I was so excited to feel better. Most people recover completely after treatment, but when I was done with the antibiotics, my health started to go downhill again. I even had to quit sports because I felt tired all the time.

Doctors aren’t sure how long I’ll feel this way, but I’m not going to give up. I launched a foundation last year called LivLyme, which raises money to fund Lyme disease research and support families who can’t afford treatment. Maybe that money will one day help to find a cure!

Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, and muscle aches. See a doctor if you don’t feel better within two weeks.

Growing up in Wisconsin and Vermont, I knew kids who got Lyme disease—and they usually recovered quickly. Then, four years ago, I found a tick on my own scalp. Because I had none of the classic signs of Lyme, I didn’t see a doctor. Even when I started to feel anxious and irritable and had trouble sleeping, I just shrugged it off. After all, who doesn’t get annoyed or have insomnia every now and then?

But then last year, my knees began to hurt so much during cross-country practice that I had to quit the team. I finally saw a doctor. A Lyme test came back positive, and we discovered that I also had two other tick-borne diseases.

I’m still on antibiotics to treat these illnesses. Some kids assume I’m a wimp because I didn’t get better right away. I wish they’d take the time to learn more about Lyme disease and how it can affect people. If they did, I bet that they’d be a little more sensitive.

Dramatic mood swings (like if you feel stressed out or angry for no reason) and trouble sleeping.

I play volleyball, so when my joints started to swell a little, I just thought I had pushed myself too hard on the court and gotten injured. I used ice packs for the swelling, but they didn’t help much. Then, around the same time, the weirdest thing happened: I have always had a good memory, but all of a sudden it started to get fuzzy. When my mom gave me a list of chores to do, for example, I’d do one or two of them but completely forget about the rest.

About two months later, one of my knees ballooned out larger than ever before and felt warm. My mom scheduled a doctor’s appointment right away. When my doctor couldn’t find an injury, he decided to do a blood test. It came back positive for Lyme. The doctor said that the disease had caused the knee pain and memory issues, and I was given two doses of antibiotics.

Today, my memory still isn’t 100 percent, but my doctor says symptoms can linger for a little while after treatment. I’m back to playing sports and doing what I love—I won’t let Lyme slow me down.

Joint pain and swelling, especially of the knees, as well as trouble with your short-term memory (such as what you learned in math today).

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