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About five years ago, my husband and I took a vacation to Lake Wallenpaupack, located in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. Taking a walk one morning, we spotted some deer and, with cameras in hand, followed them into the woods to snap pictures.

About a week later, my husband came down with what seemed like the flu, complete with joint aches, fever and listlessness. Several days passed and things continued to go downhill. A red mark soon appeared on his stomach, which he speculated was a spider bite.

The following week I happened to be watching a morning news program where the anchors discussed Lyme disease. When they flashed a picture of the tell-tale, bulls-eye rash, I was taken aback to discover that the rash on my husband’s stomach matched the rash on the screen.

We then decided it was time to take action. He visited the doctor and was prescribed a round of doxycycline. We considered ourselves lucky that he received relatively early treatment. Others aren’t so lucky.

Mechanicsburg resident Tina Prins was diagnosed with Lyme in 2013 after she discovered a tick the size of a poppy seed behind her knee while showering.

“My husband tried to pick it off, and that didn’t work, so I smothered it with hydrogen peroxide and it fell on the carpet.”

Two days later the Mechanicsburg resident fell ill with pain, fever, headache and fatigue. She sought help, tested positive for Lyme and was put on doxycycline, but witnessed little improvement.

“I found another doctor and he asked me all kinds of health questions, starting way back in high school when I was diagnosed with mono,” said Prins.

The physician came to the conclusion that Prins had actually contracted Lyme disease years prior and was sadly misdiagnosed.

“I wonder how many out there with diagnoses like mono, fibromyalgia and others don’t have Lyme at the root,” Prins asks herself.

Two years into treatment, Prins still struggles from fatigue and cognitive issues and is on a daily regimen of three different antibiotics and about 25 supplements.

“If you get treatment early enough, you can be cured. My goal is to boost my immunity enough to put it into remission,” said Prins. Since her diagnosis, Prins discovered her father, too, has Lyme disease, which was initially misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis.

Today, Prins uses her marketing expertise to spread the word about the insidious disease that runs rampant in our state and is prevalent in all 67 counties. According to a recent alert distributed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania has one of the highest incidences of Lyme disease in the nation.

Lyme disease prevention

The Pennsylvania Department of Health warns the risk of exposure is greatest in the woods and in the area between lawns and the woods. Because of this, animals are also at risk and should be checked regularly as well.

The health department recommends extra vigilance for campers, hikers, hunters and landscapers and suggests wearing long pants and sleeves outdoors and using insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin.

Tucking pant legs into socks and shirts into pants is also recommended, along with wearing a hat for added protection. Hikers are advised to walk in the center of trails to avoid overhanging brush and shower within two hours of being outdoors.

Prins also suggests using Permethrin-based sprays, which are available online, or in stores which cater to outdoor enthusiasts.

Permethrin, according to Prins, is a synthetic molecule similar to those found in natural pyrethrum, which is taken from the chrysanthemum flower. The spray not only repels insects, but also kills ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers and mites. The spray lasts several washings after being used on clothing.

Finding support

For those who are currently suffering with Lyme disease, or are seeking resources or support groups, the Pennsylvania Lyme Resource Network, created in 2013 is available to help.

Thanks to the efforts of Eric Huck of Harrisburg, Julia Wagner of Montgomery County and Gail Sheffer of York, who started the network, Pennsylvania residents have access to up-to-date, accurate information and doctors who are “Lyme literate.”

Huck has been suffering from Lyme since 2009 and began his quest for knowledge by attending the Harrisburg Area Lyme Disease Support group started by Linda Olley, which eventually led to the creation of the Lyme Resource Network.

“We all recognized that local support groups needed a statewide support structure,” said Huck, who is president of the 501©3. The group will have a website up and running within the month at www.palyme.org. “The website will include information about Lyme for people who suspect they may have it. It will also include information for family members, as well as scientific information and news on the latest research,” said Huck.

Prins suggests visiting the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) website as well. “ILADS is in the trenches doing current research on Lyme disease and educating doctors on new treatments and protocols.”

“Lyme is very misunderstood and much of the CDC information is radically outdated. Our group keeps people up to date on the current science,” added Huck.

Take a Bite Out of Lyme

The Lyme Disease Challenge started in March to help spread awareness and raise money for research. Participants are asked to bite a lime, take a video, or a photo and state one brief fact about Lyme disease, either in the video, or written on the photo. The next step is to challenge three others and then spread the word with the hashtag “Lyme Disease Challenge.”

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