Summer is just beginning here in the United States. As May starts off all the great outdoor holidays, the usual warnings about sunscreen and bug spray start to appear. Among these warnings there's been talk on a more serious risk - Lyme disease.
While in the past Lyme disease is a passing comment when ticks are mentioned in an area, it's been getting more spotlight lately thanks to celebrities like Avril Lavigne opening up about this potentially chronic disease. That's why we at eVitamins are celebrating Lyme Disease Awareness Month for May.
Sarah Shoffner, our local Miss Michigan Supranational 2016
, is celebrating with us. Her reasons are more personal, however. She contracted the disease in August of last year and has been living with this illness ever since.
Shoffner, 19 years old, was crowned Miss Michigan Supranational in February. She's a dancer and enjoys aerial silks along with pageants. She spends her free time as a princess, making magic for young children and volunteering.
"I went from a really active teenager to someone who needed help getting out of my bed," Shoffner says, explaining just how serious this infection can be.
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness usually contracted from infected deer ticks but can be carried by other insects as well. A bull's-eye-like rash appears around the bite site and flu-like symptoms develop. But that's only the simple stuff. Left untreated, Lyme can develop into joint pain, heart problems, long-term fatigue and even neurological problems.
"I couldn't stand long enough to take a shower," Shoffner reveals, "and half the time I slept on the couch because I was too weak to go up the stairs. I was constantly in and out of the ER."
This is where Lyme awareness comes in. When people who are bitten don't know it or they don't connect their flu symptoms to the tick-bite, they don't seek treatment right away. Shoffner's situation demonstrates another problem - diagnosis. Symptoms like rash, fever, chills, fatigue and body aches could have multiple sources. The more serious symptoms can begin weeks to years after the initial infection date. Who can remember a tick bite from a year before?
"I kept getting the same response over and over again," the beauty queen says," that I was crazy or making it up. A doctor finally told me to see a Lyme specialist."
Treatment for Lyme disease is a series of antibiotics. The sooner patients are diagnosed and treated, the faster and better their outcomes are. While it's not common to die from Lyme, there are reports
Shoffner says she was really lucky. "I had a diagnosis within a few months...Most people don't get diagnosed until they're had it for a few years." Now she's just as active as she was the year before.
Even with treatment, some people still experience symptoms for months to years after contracting the disease. This is called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease, though many refer to it as Chronic Lyme. This will occur in up to 20 percent of patients with Lyme.
So why is Lyme disease so overlooked? Part of the reason is the confined definition of the disease by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center
, late stage Lyme disease is not well recognized within the CDC. This impacts how to identify late stage Lyme, the number of cases recorded and how doctors choose to treat it.
Another set-back in the misconception that Lyme is only a threat in a limited area like the north-east United States. This is a drastically wrong viewpoint. Lyme is in over 80 countries
. This could include Antarctica, as seabirds like the King penguin carry the main species of tick that house the bacteria. And as stated above, it's carried by more than ticks. Mites, fleas and spiders can also be carriers. As well as mosquitoes, as if we needed more reason to hate them.
Most chronic illnesses also come with personal hardships for patients. 72 percent of those diagnosed reported
a poor quality of life than what they had before the infection because of the severity of their symptoms. They also reported the complete interruption Lyme had on their lives, from personal events to work.
"Lyme disease is invisible to other people," Shoffner says. "Other people don't understand how much your body is really going through. I often heard 'but you don't look very sick to me'."
This is what Lyme Awareness is trying to fight. Not just for better research but for patients that deserve compassion for what they're going through. Not every illness can be seen or has a multi-million charity behind it. What we can do is spread the word to open up more possibilities for everyone.
has a list of activities you can participate in for the month to help the cause, along with great information. Join eVitamins and Miss Michigan in spreading the word on this debilitating illness.