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Home & Garden Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 30, 2009

A cautionary tale: Be persistent in thwarting the deer tick, and in seeking medical help

By Anne Hayden

Gardening season is here, bringing with it the pleasures of blooming flowers and fresh vegetables, but there is one unwelcome intruder that could be lurking in the grass, leaves, and brush. It's the tick, and outdoor enthusiasts need to take precautions against Lyme Disease as the weather warms up.

According to the New York State Department of Health, 77,000 cases of Lyme Disease have been diagnosed in the state since 1986, when the disease first became reportable, with many suspected cases going unreported.  The chances of being infected with Lyme Disease are greatest from mid-March to November.

Lyme Disease is transmitted when an infected tick bites a person, and remains attached for a period of time, usually 36 hours. In some cases, about 60 to 80 percent, a bulls eye rash appears in the bitten area, according to the NYS Department of Health. Early symptoms, which include chills, fever, headache, and joint and muscle pain, tend to occur within 30 days of exposure. If left untreated, the disease can become chronic, involving fatigue, nerve damage, and neurological problems.

Doctors recommend that any person with a bullseye rash make an appointment immediately, and be treated with a regimen of antibiotics as a precaution. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not enough, as Sigmund Kwiatkowski of Wilton knows from experience.

In the summer of June 2007, Kwiatkowski began feeling fatigued and losing weight, something he and his family attributed to his hardworking lifestyle. One morning, however, he woke up to see a bullseye rash on his thigh, and went to his general practitioner suspecting either ringworm or Lyme Disease. Kwiatkowski tested positive for Lyme Disease, and was given three weeks of an antibiotic called Doxycycline.

After the antibiotics were finished, Kwiatkowski was still losing weight, and started running fevers as high as 103 degrees for days in a row. He also began experiencing pain and stiffness in his fingers. He visited multiple doctors and was given a range of diagnoses, including arthritis and diabetes, while his symptoms progressed to pain in his legs and ankles that was so bad, he could not stand up, and had to quit his job.

Family members commented that Kwiatkowski “looked like he was dying,” after he had lost a total of 54 pounds. His wife and sister-in-law embarked on their own investigation, and decided to ask the doctors if there was any possibility of chronic Lyme. They got a range of responses, some doctors saying there was no such thing as chronic Lyme, and others saying it was not possible since Kwiatkowski had already been treated.

After 15 different doctor experiences, Kwiatkowski found a Lyme Literate doctor who listened to his concerns, and who believed in chronic Lyme. After 18 months of suffering, Kwiatkowski has gained back the weight he lost, and feels good apart from the occasional aches and pains that persist. But, said Kwiatkowski's wife, he is still afraid to go outside and makes sure he takes every precaution not to be bitten again.

“We have woods behind the house,” she said. “We are out there feeding the birds, shoveling, raking. He doesn't know exactly how he got it, but it had to be one of those things.”

According to the Albany County Department of Health, there are things people can do to prevent tick bites if they are going to be outside. They include wearing light colored clothing, which makes it easier to spot a dark tick, spraying the clothing with a repellent with DEET, wearing long sleeves tucked into gloves, and long pants tucked into socks or shoes.

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