A parasite barely the size of a pinhead is wreaking havoc across the Cape Region and the entire Northeastern United States.
In Delaware, the topic of Lyme disease – a bacterial infection transmitted by tiny deer ticks that have fed off infected mice and deer – quickly prompts a chorus of testimonials about misdiagnosis and hellish symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently ranked Delaware first in the nation for prevalence of Lyme.
"My Lyme story is like many other stories of people who are suffering with this horrific disease..." wrote Cape Region resident Abby Rowland Webb in an email she sent from Kansas where she was seeking treatment. "I have had days, weeks, months of being bedridden, using a wheelchair, walker or scooter."
In 2011, with 84 confirmed infections for every 100,000 residents, the CDC reported Delaware leads the nation in Lyme disease prevalence.
By 2012, the number of confirmed cases dropped by nearly 250 statewide, but the CDC recently released estimates that the true frequency of cases may be as many as 10 times the number of confirmed diagnoses nationwide.
A statewide awareness campaign has resulted in "Got Ticks?" billboards scattered throughout the state aimed at encouraging people to seek treatment. As hunting season hits full swing, it's worth noting deer hunters are among the most frequently infected.
Along with the crossbow and archery deer hunting seasons already underway, the start of muzzle loader season Friday, Oct. 11, will bring more people who could be infected by the blood-sucking carriers, who can infect hosts within 24 hours of attachment.
Hunters are being urged to gear up in more than the usual hunter-orange garb. They should also lather insect repellant on themselves and their hunting dogs and don long pants and long-sleeved shirts in light colors to make ticks more visible.
Symptoms and misdiagnosis
Lyme may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because people who are infected present with nebulous symptoms including nausea, extreme fatigue, headaches, joint pain or extreme weight gain or loss.
For Webb, 28, who suspects she contracted the disease in utero or from breast milk, Lyme disease – named for the Connecticut town where it was first recognized as a specific infection – has been a lifelong battle.
Although she has presented symptoms throughout her life, she underwent inconclusive and incorrect tests starting in early childhood and was not properly diagnosed until she was in her early 20s.
In childhood, Webb said she suffered terrible headaches, muscle and joint pain, gastric distress, regular bouts with pneumonia and fits she now recognizes as "Lyme rages" of mental confusion and unbridled anger.
Schooling was an obstacle because of her physical ailments and learning disabilities, including dyslexia that Webb now attributes to Lyme disease. She was unable to read until she was 12 years old and was taken out of the public school system to be home schooled in seventh grade.
Before her Lyme diagnosis, Webb was misdiagnosed with a long list of maladies: multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, lupus, Parkinson's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and even cancer.
It seems the medical community has always struggled with pinpointing the disease and prescribing effective treatment, she said.
"There were suggestions or flat-out guesses by doctors," Webb wrote. "I have been pre-menopausal twice (by age 22). It was even suggested I had Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. I was finally diagnosed with Lyme at age 20."
After being dropped by insurance companies and spending nearly $500,000 on ineffective medical approaches, Webb said she has exhausted her funds and needs help with to cover expenses for the clinic in Kansas where she has camped with her husband for the last month while undergoing treatment.
After traditional diagnoses, testing and treatments fail, many patients and advisors have moved toward dietary changes, establishing exercise needs and naturopathic remedies for detoxification and guiding body balance.
As part of her treatment at the Hansa clinic in Kansas, Webb said she was put on an organic, sugar, soy, gluten and shellfish-free diet.
Webb missed her hometown in the Cape Region and is on her way back home. She says she remains hopeful for her future.
"I may never be able to work, but as long as I can bathe myself, cook, clean, drive, go outside, and live, I will be happy! happy! happy!" she writes. "'Living the good life in spite of Lyme' is my new slogan, and I am going to fight the rest of my life to fulfill it to the fullest."
In the coming weeks, the SHINE Natural Health Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif., will host a series of three Lyme disease healing seminars on the Delmarva Peninsula, including information on how to naturally stimulate the immune systems to manage Lyme and integrate conventional and complementary strategies effectively.
For more information on upcoming seminars from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at 200 Camden St., Salisbury, Md.; 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Oct. 12, at Good Earth Market in Rehoboth Beach; and 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12, at Good Earth Market on Route 26 in Ocean View. For information, call 302-226-3276; 302-537-1700 or email Marilyn Williams at email@example.com.
For more information on Abby Rowland Webb's battle with Lyme or to donate to her treatment, go to www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/hope-for-lyme-health/84351.