A crippling disease may lurk in your backyard

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Tick on human skin. Photo/Shutterstock.
Tick on human skin. Photo/Shutterstock.
Dr. Kristi Hellenbrand. Photo/Submitted.
Dr. Kristi Hellenbrand. Photo/Submitted.

Peachtree City woman describes her battle against unseen enemy — 


By Dr. Kristi Hellenbrand


In less than sixty days I would lose the ability to walk.

Not from a horrific accident. Not even from MS or some similar neurological disease.

From a tick bite. In my own backyard. In Peachtree City.

It started like a summer flu. A few days of a low-grade fever, progressing to terrible fatigue. Soon I was having low blood pressure, fainting spells, and dizziness. One month in my feet went numb. Another week and it was up to my knees.

By the time I checked in to the Emory ER department, I could barely walk. I had been out sick from work for almost three weeks. The best neurologists that Emory have could not figure out why my nervous system was no longer working. I did not have a brain tumor, MS, or Guillain Barre Syndrome. And I could not have Lyme Disease because I had not traveled to the Northeast.

Except I did have Lyme Disease.

After returning home I saw a Peachtree City doctor that ordered Tickborne vector testing.

I was positive for Lyme and several coinfections.

In 2017 it was reported that Lyme Disease has been detected in all but five states in the U.S. In 2020 it was reported all but one.

The fact is ticks have migrated and infiltrated our backyards. And they carry far more than just borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria known to cause Lyme. They carry Tickborne Encephalitis, Bartonella, Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and many other pathogens.

We have hundreds of citizens right here in our hometown suffering with chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and severe neurological symptoms from tick bites.

What can we do to protect ourselves? Use tick spray religiously. If you prefer to avoid DEET products the CDC found Repel Eucalyptus Lemongrass to be just as effective.

A product called Wondercide, which uses cedar oil to repel ticks, is our family favorite. Cover up and spray yourself down when the grass is tall or near wooded areas. Amazon sells clothes impregnated with tick repellent.

At the very minimum, tuck your pants into your socks if you are hiking. Tick-check your kids and yourself each night before bed.

If you get a tick bite, remove the tick carefully and KEEP IT. There are labs that will test it for Lyme if you get sick. The CDC states that as many as 20-30% of infections DO NOT show the characteristic bullseye rash. More recent research states it could be as high as 70%. I did not have the rash.

If you suspect you have Lyme Disease, ask your doctor for testing. The Western Blot and ELISA will find about 30% of cases reliably. They are highly specific tests.

Unfortunately, they are not very sensitive tests, missing as many as 70% of cases. Europe has better testing protocol than we do. However, there are laboratories here that will perform more accurate testing.

Be your own health advocate. Do your research and connect with other Lyme patients in the area to find excellent doctors here and treatment options.

Most importantly, if Lyme is treated early, prognosis is excellent. Sixty days of a common antibiotic is often all it takes. In my case, the diagnosis came too late, and I now suffer from lasting neurological and cognitive side effects. Do not wait to ask for treatment.

Home is where the heart is. Unfortunately, home is also where the ticks are. Prevention is key. Please visit PTC Lyme Connection on Facebook to connect with other sufferers.

Dr. Kristi Hellenbrand has lived in Peachtree City since 2009. She lives on a happy farm with her husband, three children and far too many pets.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Mr. Muller for your comment. I am thrilled to have someone in your field, with your years of experience, concur that Lyme Disease is often misdiagnosed and mismanaged. You bring great credibility to my article and I appreciate that. Your also bring credibilty to the handful of doctors in Georgia that will help Lyme disease sufferers.
    For anyone looking for more information, please refer to http://www.lymedisease.org for up-to-date research and management.
    Dr. K

  2. Thank you for writing this article Dr. Hellenbrand. Having spent a career in the neuroscience field (autoimmune disorders / molecular diagnostic testing), I concur with everything you have stated about this particular disease, how it may present, sensitivity / specificity in testing; even the challenges in getting a proper diagnosis at some prominent health institutions here in the south and around the country. My best to you in your recovery and for getting this important message out to others, for indeed we are in a somewhat understated risk zone area.