By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), a nonprofit organization of leading veterinary parasitologists, predicts the threat of Lyme disease for dogs will be extremely high this year. The forecast, the only one of its kind for parasites, was developed in partnership with Clemson University statisticians also responsible for developing the model for severe weather forecasting.
Because of this insidious little parasite, people like Good Hope's Christy Driver have lived most of their lives in undiagnosed or mis-diagnosed pain. To help people better understand the dangers this tiny beast can wreak on the lives of people who are bitten by ticks carrying the Lyme Disease bacteria, Driver has joined with other Lyme patients to share their first-hand knowledge.
The Cullman chapter of the Alabama Lyme Disease Association was officially formed in January 2013. Recently, Gov. Bentley officially proclaimed May as Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
Driver, who is Patient Care Coordinator for the State of Alabama Lyme Disease Association, will be hosting a picnic at 11 a.m. May 18, at Sportsman’s Lake Park (pavilion No. 4) for people who would like to learn more about Lyme Disease and how it effects patients and their families.
Other Lyme Disease Association chapters throughout the state will also be hosting similar events for Lyme Disease Awareness on the same day.
Kevin Wolfe, of Montgomery, whose son, Ian, 9, was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2010, will host his area’s picnic in Montgomery, and Carrye Hodges will do the same in Birmingham.
The idea is to help others who might suspect or have already received a diagnosis of Lyme Disease, or to inform people how to go about getting a definitive diagnosis. “People have a hard time getting a correct, positive diagnosis for Lyme,” said Driver. “For one thing, the bacteria hides, or goes into remission, so you might get a false negative even though you really have Lyme Disease.”
Another reason people have a hard time getting a doctor to test them for Lyme Disease is that according to the Center for Disease Control, Lyme Disease doesn’t exist in Alabama. Just ask most people who have it…your neighbors, friends or co-workers.
They might get a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, autism, Alzheimer’s Disease or even mental instability — in other words, being a hypochondriac.
“We even hear doctors on television call us a bunch of hypochondriacs, but those doctors obviously don’t know what they are talking about, because there are many of us who already have definitive proof through testing that we have Lyme Disease,” said Driver. Driver herself had to seek her diagnosis from a doctor in Tennessee, who confirmed it through a test specifically for the disease.
“It has even been suggested that having active cases of Lyme in Alabama might adversely affect tourism,” shrugged Driver. “Doctors are reluctant to diagnose this disease for some reason. We want to change that. I didn’t receive my diagnosis until I was 33 years old.”
Driver was never bitten. Her mother was infected through a tick bite which resulted in a rash and flu-like symptoms. It has just been proven within the past two years that this disease can cross the placenta, infecting an unborn child.
Ticks are carriers of many diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms in canines often present themselves as lameness/inflammation of the joints, lack of appetite and listlessness. Other serious complications might result in damage to the kidneys, heart or nervous system disease. While Lyme Disease is not transmitted from dogs to humans, dogs are often carriers of the little offenders and are commonly an indicator of the potential for human exposure and possible infection.
Driver and the other charter members of the State of Alabama Lyme Disease Association intend to spread the word so that people are aware of the danger of ticks. The May 18 event at Sportsman’s Lake Park will include speakers on the subject and literature containing important information and contact numbers. Everyone is welcome to attend. Driver will provide bottled water and some refreshments, but others who attend are encouraged to bring a covered dish.
There will be a raffle for a gift basket filled with wholesome goodies from the Specialty Wellness Store. You must be present to win.
“The main focus of this event is to bring together patients with Lyme Disease who have no support so that we can help them learn about places they can go to get tested or to get help,” explained Driver. “Our goal is to raise awareness and to get some laws changed concerning testing availability, as well as to offer our support.”
“Ticks can cause a lifetime of misery for anyone who contracts Lyme Disease,” stressed Driver. “It was actually a relief to me just to have a diagnosis because it almost bankrupt us trying to go from doctor to doctor for an answer.”
The first line of defense against tick bites is to protect yourself and your pets when walking or playing outdoors. Wearing light colored clothing is advised. Check yourself and your animals immediately when you come inside.
According to the CAPC, this is going to be a bad year for ticks. This information is based on a forecast of several factors, including temperature, dew point, humidity, precipitation, elevation, forest cover, population density, reported human Lyme disease cases and deer strikes by car. The forecast is also the collective expert opinion of respected parasitologists, who engage in ongoing research and data interpretation to better understand and monitor disease transmission and changing life cycles.
For more information about the May 18 event, or about Lyme Disease in general, visit Alabama Lyme Disease on Facebook, contact Christy Driver on Facebook, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.alabamalymedisease.org.
Prevention is the best medicine
To prevent any type of infection or infestation, CAPC recommends year-round parasite-control medication for dogs and cats, which often requires a monthly application. In addition, CAPC's guidelines recommend regular examinations — at least annually — by a veterinarian.
To fully understand the threat of disease to dogs and cats in their immediate area, pet owners may sign up for regular e-mail updates by visiting petsandparasites.org. The parasite prevalence maps share specific numbers of diagnosed cases by county. In addition, pet owners will be alerted when new forecast information is available. The localized forecasting is especially valuable for pet owners who travel with their animals, allowing owners to protect their pet from potential infestations in new areas.