Comment; Lyme can be so hard to pick up in some folks. So many unusual presentations, and for those genetically predisposed to CIRS, even clearing the acute infection won’t necessarily eliminate symptoms until the inflammation is extinguished. Complex illness!
Brian Broom, Mississippi Clarion LedgerPublished 5:00 a.m. CT March 17, 2019
A Mississippi man was on his way to a New Year’s Eve party in 2015 when suddenly he felt the end was near. Little did he know it would be years before he discovered he had a rare case of Lyme disease or that it all started while working on a food plot for deer.
“I felt like I was dying,” said Keith Bradshaw of Bolton. “There are no other words to describe it.
“We were driving down the road and I felt really off. Something was not right and hit like a ton of bricks. I thought I was about to have a heart attack and there was no relief from it.”
Keith Bradshaw of Bolton was diagnosed as having depression and anxiety. Almost three years later he discovered he was suffering from a tick-borne disease. (Photo: Special to Clarion Ledger)
Bradshaw was taken to a hospital in Jackson. After a two-night stay and numerous tests, doctors could find nothing physically wrong with him. They determined he was suffering from depression and anxiety.
At the time, Bradshaw said it seemed possible. After all, he couldn’t even really tell them what his symptoms were.
“It was just a horrible feeling,” Bradshaw said. “It’s just so hard to describe.”
Bradshaw began monthly visits to doctors for his anxiety and depression. Finding the right medications to get his life back on track was a slow process, though. He said some of the medications took weeks or even a month before they built up in his body to the point he could tell if they worked or not.
Symptoms continued with no relief in sight
And they weren’t. His symptoms only worsened and included his eyes becoming sensitive to light, loss of balance, loss of hearing and confusion, along with facial, foot and hand numbness.
It became so bad, Bradshaw said he would come home from from work, take a sleeping aid, and go to bed.
“I was so excited to go to sleep to get relief,” Bradshaw said. “It sucked.”
After almost three years of treatment, Bradshaw was no better and he’d spent in the neighborhood of $5,000 out of pocket. In November, he added the loss of his sense of taste to the list of 14 symptoms he was already enduring. He was becoming desperate.
“I started looking up symptoms,” Bradshaw said. “The internet is not the place to look up symptoms.”
Bradshaw explained that a single symptom can be indicative of many problems. For instance, he found the facial numbness he suffered could be caused by a brain tumor. He also found a tick-borne illness.
The black-legged tick, sometimes called the deer tick, is responsible for transmitting Lyme disease. (Photo: ~File photo)
‘I didn’t know about tick-borne diseases’
“I did see Lyme disease,” Bradshaw said. “I kind of ignored it.”
However, Bradshaw remembered pulling small ticks off of his body after cutting a food plot in late summer of 2015.
“I noticed I had about 10 to 15 seed ticks on me,” Bradshaw said. “I pulled them off like any country boy and went on my way.
“I didn’t know about tick-borne diseases. It’s something you don’t think about.”
Bradshaw turned to the internet again to take another look at Lyme disease. It’s a disease caused by a bacteria and is transmitted by deer ticks. He found a video of a person who had it and exhibited roughly 80 percent of the same symptoms Bradshaw suffered.
“It was like a light bulb came on,” Bradshaw said.
The only problem was Bradshaw said he read information that indicated Lyme disease did not occur in Mississippi, but he went to a doctor anyway.
“I said, ‘Hey, can we just try this and see,'” Bradshaw said.
Two weeks later, the results from his western blot test, which is used to detect Lyme disease, came back positive. The result was a rarity among diseases in Mississippi.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mississippi reported 14 cases between 2007 and 2017. It’s a number in stark contrast to the Northeast, where the disease is most prevalent. Pennsylvania alone reported over 9,000 cases in 2017.
According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the disease is caused by a bacteria that deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks, usually ingest when they feed on white-footed mice. When they bite humans of other animals, the host can be infected.
The MSU Extension Service states the bacteria affects the muscoskeletal system, the nervous system and the heart. Its symptoms include, but are not limited to, skin rashes, memory problems, aching joints and muscles, vision problems, heart problems, fatigue and facial paralysis. Those infected may also experience irritability, headaches, swollen lymph glands and shortness of breath.
Lyme disease confirmed, but treatment an uphill battle
Bradford said his primary care doctor knew nothing about the disease and referred him to another. Despite the fact Bradshaw was confirmed positive, an infectious disease doctor told him Lyme disease did not exist in Mississippi and would not treat him for it, he said.
At the urging of a support group on Facebook, Bradshaw sought medical care in Louisiana. He is currently taking antibiotics to kill the Lyme disease bacteria and any secondary infections he may have contracted from deer ticks.
“I started treatment in January,” Bradshaw said. “In just over two months I’ve started feeling better.”
Bradshaw said in the months prior to becoming ill his only out-of-state travel was to Louisiana to go fishing. Louisiana, like Mississippi also has few cases of the disease reported. If he contracted the disease in Mississippi, it could be a first.
“We’ve had a handful of cases we’ve reported from Mississippi,” said Dr. Paul Byers, state epidemiologist with MSDH. “Certainly, Lyme disease is in Mississippi, except the cases we’ve had reported over the years, we’ve not had a case of transmission in Mississippi. Those are cases from out-of-state exposure.”
Byers also noted that deer ticks are in Mississippi, but none have ever been found carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. However, there are roughly 100 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever reported each year in Mississippi and it is also transmitted by ticks. So, Byers said the health department encourages physicians to be aware of tick-borne illnesses.
“Certainly, we make physicians aware of tick-borne illnesses,” Byers said. “We are hitting the time soon that we see more of our tick-borne disease. We want them to be thinking tick-borne diseases.”
Take steps to avoid contact with ticks
Here are some suggestions from the state Health Department:
- Don’t walk bare-legged in tall grass, woods, or dunes where ticks may live.
- If you do walk in these places, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, high socks (with pants tucked tightly into the socks), and sneakers.
- Light colors will help you spot the ticks on your clothes before they reach your skin.
- Use insect repellents that contain DEET on your clothes or exposed skin, or those that contain permethrin on your clothes.
- Read labels carefully. Use products with no more than 10 percent DEET on children and no more than 30-35 percent DEET on adults.
- Wash skin thoroughly after returning indoors. Rare, but serious reactions to repellents can occur.
- Check for ticks every day. Their favorite places are on the legs, thighs, groin, in the armpits, along the hairline, and in or behind the ears. The ticks are tiny, so look for new freckles.
If you have been exposed to ticks and exhibit symptoms of the disease, the health department suggests getting medical attention immediately.
However, Bradshaw warns of possible misdiagnosis when it comes to Lyme disease and recommends testing.
“If you look at the symptoms of Lyme disease, it’s a great imitator of other diseases,” Bradshaw said. “If they would have ran that (western blot test), it probably would have saved two years of my life.
“Lyme (disease) literally sucks the life out of you. I’m pretty sure there are other people in Mississippi going through this. My main deal is just to help someone who doesn’t know they have it.”
For more information about Lyme disease, visit https://msdh.ms.gov/.