A Cautionary Tale

A field near our house is pretty, but a breeding ground for ticks.

We’ve live about 30 minutes from Lyme, CT., notorious for being the epicenter of Lyme disease.

Almost everyone I know has had Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness carried by a tiny deer tick. I had my own battle with the disease last year after a huge welt on my back didn’t go away after a month, and I finally got myself to the doctor. Ten days of antibiotics cleared it up, but I joined the ranks of relatives, friends and acquaintances with my own Lyme war story.

One of my friends had such a bad case of Lyme that he had to have a port for intravenous antibiotics for several months. A good friend of mine is on antibiotics permanently because of an undiagnosed case of Lyme disease in the late 80s. She occasionally gets a reprieve when her stomach can’t take it any more, but she suffers with permanent arthritis as a result of Lyme.

Unfortunately, ticks carry more than just Lyme, and doctors in Connecticut say this summer has been the worst in recent years for tick-borne diseases, which often present with flu-like symptoms. I’m writing this in hopes of sparing other people the agony of an undiagnosed tick borne disease. If you have flu-like symptoms and Covid 19 has been ruled out, insist that your health care provider run a blood panel to look for tick-borne diseases.

The Curmudgeon has been more curmudgeonly lately, complaining of fatigue, body aches and fever. He has been walking around with a digital thermometer in his pocket, taking his temperature while sitting at his desk at the office and driving his car. He has been running a fever of around 102 degrees, and complaining about night sweats and an ache in his back near his kidneys.

Two weeks ago, a Covid 19 came out negative, but his flu-like symptoms persisted. After much prodding, he called his doctor and was told he could get a telemedicine appointment two days later. If he wanted more immediate care, they referred him to a walk-in clinic affiliated with Yale-New Haven Hospital a half-hour away. I suggested the Yale Shoreline Clinic 5 minutes from our house, but the Curmudgeon overruled me. Naturally.

The doctor at the walk-in clinic took a chest X-ray, but never ran blood work. She sent him home, telling him that he looked good, but should consider a follow-up if his fever persisted. He was convinced it was a flu-like illness after a young woman in his office said she had contracted a similar virus, and downed Tylenol to control his fever, which continued to spike without medication.

Convinced it was just a matter of time until the fever abated, he played three matches for his USTA team in Districts outside of Boston last weekend. He’d been looking forward to it for months, and saw no reason to back out just because of a fever. Don’t even get me started on how much I tried to talk him out of it, but it was no use. He wanted to go, and he did, winning two of his three doubles matches.

He arrived home Saturday night and was still feeling awful. He finally went to the Shoreline clinic at the foot of our neighborhood on Sunday night, where they discovered he has Babesiosis, a tick-borne disease caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Babesiosis is just one of several potentially deadly diseases carried by ticks in Connecticut, though I’d never heard of it until the Curmudgeon texted it to me.

Doctors considered admitting him to the hospital for treatment of the disease, which can lead to kidney failure and a host of other problems if left untreated. He was finally released about 4 a.m. after a courier rushed medicine from New Haven to Guilford. He will be on meds until the parasite is thoroughly eradicated from his blood cells.

Incredibly, this is the second case of a tick borne illness in my family within a month. In July, one of my brother-in-laws was diagnosed with anaplasmosis, another tick borne disease that infects blood cells. In both of these cases, the disease sufferer was convinced they had a common virus, and resisted seeking medical treatment, having no idea how sick they really were. It was only through prodding from relatives, including my 87-year-old mother, that the Curmudgeon finally sought follow-up care.

How did the Curmudgeon get it?

Though people were quick to blame the dog, we treat her with tick prevention medication and she doesn’t sleep in our bed. It’s more likely he contracted it in the woods near our house, where we’ve been walking the dog due to the the high heat and humidity this summer. Ticks like moist shady areas and there’s plenty of that around here. To be honest, we rarely check for ticks and we don’t wear pants or tuck in our socks, probably the best way to prevent a tick bite.

I hope to get something positive out of the Curmudgeon’s ordeal, trying to educate people to be aware of tick-borne diseases other than Lyme. We all love our pets, but anyone with a dog or who spends time outside should check yourself every day for ticks. We should make it part of our daily routine along with showering and brushing our teeth. Ticks have to be on our radar, though they’ve understandably taken a back seat during the pandemic.

Don’t be scared, but be aware and insist on blood work. Anything less just doesn’t cut it with ticks out there.