Lyme Disease, treatable but often misdiagnosed

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Their small size makes ticks hard to see.

By Kim Hurley

Register Freelance Writer


It’s as tiny as the period at the end of this sentence. It’s nearly impossible to see it on a dog. It’s barely visible to the human eye.  Yet, it can have a gigantic, life-changing impact on thousands of lives. It’s the primary tick that carries Lyme disease, particularly in this region of the United States. It’s the deer tick (also known as the black-legged tick).

Deer ticks, which feed on the blood of animals and humans, can harbor the bacterium that cause Lyme disease and spread it when feeding. However, there are two other prevalent species of ticks that carry Lyme disease: The Western black-legged tick and the Lone Star tick. The Western black-begged tick looks very similar to the deer tick and is found primarily in the Pacific U.S. and British Columbia. On the other hand, the Lone Star tick is a bit larger; has a white “Lone Star” dot on its back; and is found mainly in the southeastern U.S. west into Texas, with pockets found in New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

While only a minority of deer tick bites leads to Lyme disease, the longer the tick remains attached to the skin, the greater the risk of getting the disease. One of the signs and symptoms that may occur within a month after a person has been infected is a small, red bump at the site of the tick bite. It doesn’t necessarily mean a person has Lyme disease. However, over the next few days, the redness may expand forming a rash in a bull’s-eye pattern, with a red outer ring surrounding a clear area.  

According to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), up to half of the people who have a Lyme infection may never develop a rash at all.  This was true for Scott Rentschler and Karla Duff, whom have experienced Lyme disease. Neither of these Volga residents developed such a rash; neither had an awareness of being bitten by a tick.

Scott got bit during the fall of 2007 while hunting in the grass and timber of southern Iowa. “He had ticks that we needed a magnifying glass to see,” recalls Becci, his wife, “They were everywhere!” A few days later, he had very severe flu-like symptoms along with unexplainable pain, sweats, and headaches. Eventually, the neurological symptoms began—thoughts were unclear and there was anxiety for no reason.

Although the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease vary from person to person, Karla experienced the same initial symptoms in 2003 as Scott. According to Mayo Clinic, these are typical symptoms of the condition. Usually more than one system is affected, with the skin, joints, and nervous system being affected most often. 

It was three years before Karla was accurately diagnosed with Lyme disease, having sought treatment from many different doctors who either incorrectly diagnosed her or told her to “give it time.” During this time, her symptoms advanced and multiplied into sensitivity to light and sound, swelling of her lymph nodes and face, extreme fatigue, numbness and strength loss, development of various allergies, and temporary paralysis of the face.

“Since most of my symptoms were neurological, the ‘normal’ Lyme symptoms were not evident,” Karla explained, “and, thus, I wasn’t tested for Lyme until I was diagnosed in 2006.” 

Before she was diagnosed, Karla was experiencing heart complications and seizure-like symptoms. Such symptoms, say Mayo Clinic experts, are less common in persons infected by Lyme disease.

Having gone undiagnosed for 18 months, Scott had similar experiences with the medical community.  Like Karla, his symptoms worsened and he wasn’t able to work for a period of time. “The Western Blot Test came back with one marker, so that physician would not treat him,” Becci shared, “We finally found an ER provider that prescribed doxycycline and the symptoms began subsiding quickly.” 

Scott was bitten again by a tick in the spring of 2012. At that time, he did have the bull’s-eye on the back of his leg and his side. ILADS claims that it is common for some people to develop the rash at more than one place on their bodies. 

With Scott’s second occurrence, an urgent care provider administered one injection of ceftriaxone and prescribed a regimen of amoxicillin. Such a regimen of antibiotics for 14 days or until symptoms are gone should be started immediately. “Treated timely with antibiotics, symptoms can be treated swiftly,” Karla stated, “untreated, they run rampant in the body.”

“Very few medical providers test for any other tick-borne illness,” Becci said, “Like animals and people, there is migration. I believe some providers just don’t seek out specific education on their own. People suffer greatly and the medical provider only sees them in a bleep of time and cannot fathom the real picture.”  Karla agrees, “Without more medical institutions and insurance companies working together, more and more families will be affected.” 

Both Scott and Karla lead full lives. While he is the part-time maintenance man at the Elkader Care Center, Scott is also the owner/operator of Best Friend Longbows. He and Becci are the parents of two adult children, Bryton and Courtlyn.

Karla has been a middle school teacher at Oelwein Schools for 20 years. She and her husband, Pete, have two teenage children, Alex and Emily.

Scott and Karla have continued to manage their symptoms by getting plenty of rest and altering their diets. They both have used a combination of Eastern and Western medicine such as chiropractic and massage treatments, essential oils, and supplements.  Karla has also had physical therapy and Reiki.

If you’ve been bitten by a tick and experience symptoms, immediately wash the area and apply an antibacterial ointment. Becci recommends also applying an essential oil—such as tea tree oil, eucalyptus, and/or cinnamon (diluted) —topically on the infected area immediately. When a rash or flu-like symptoms appear, seek medical treatment immediately. Save the tick, if possible. Treatment for Lyme disease is most effective if begun as soon as possible.

It’s important to consult a doctor even if signs and symptoms disappear because the absence of symptoms doesn’t mean the disease is gone. Left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to other parts of the body from several months to years after infection, causing arthritis and nervous system problems. If you feel that you are not receiving help, a diagnosis, or adequate treatment, seek out other health providers.

Avoiding a tick bite is the first step in preventing Lyme disease. There can be ticks wherever there is grass or vegetation, and tick bites can happen any time of the year. Wearing long sleeves and long pants, tucking pants into socks, and using natural tick repellants are some of the best ways to avoid ticks attaching to the skin. It’s wise to use caution and do research before spraying any chemical insect and tick repellants on your body and clothes. Upon coming indoors from spending time in the outdoors, check your body and hair—and that of your pets—for any ticks. It’s also wise to wash any clothing worn outdoors.



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