By Ann Needle
“I just don’t want anyone to have to go through this,” maintained Frank Jenkins, a long-time Stow resident and recent victim of Lyme Disease. In telling his story of a near-miss diagnosis of Lyme, Jenkins said he wants residents to know just what to do if they suspect Lyme in themselves or family members.
For Jenkins, the retired Stow Postmaster, the classic symptoms of Lyme he experienced earlier this year — fever, chills, weakness — should have been recognizable immediately. However, that was not the case. “My wife had Lyme disease last year, so we know what it looks like,” he said.
Before Jenkins’ symptoms developed, his wife had successfully dislodged an engorged deer tick from under his beard. A deer tick becomes engorged after sucking a host’s blood, and therefore may have deposited Lyme-laced venom. However, unlike his wife’s case of Lyme, there was no noticeable red, bullseye-shaped rash at the bite site, probably because the beard masked it, Jenkins noted. “My wife had that rash all over her body.”
Even after other symptoms developed, “I was silly enough to think it wasn’t, because I couldn’t see a rash.” Ironically, Jenkins said he is adept at removing ticks, given he now runs a Christmas tree farm and is outdoors much of the day.
Still, the symptoms got bad (and familiar) enough that Jenkins finally went to the doctor. “I felt like I got hit with a truck — chills, fever. When I went to the doctor, I was drenched” [with sweat]. Suspecting Lyme, the doctor ordered Jenkins into Emerson Hospital. He added that, the symptoms became so severe, “When I went in to the hospital, I was shaking.”
A Common Tale
Once admitted to Emerson, Jenkins noted that his blood test for Lyme actually came back negative. “The doctor said I KNOW this is Lyme,” and insisted on sending a blood sample to an outside lab that tests the DNA, he said.
Here, Jenkins asserted his lesson: “Don’t settle if it first comes back and it’s negative; make sure a lab runs the DNA test.” Jenkins explained that a standard, 14-day course of antibiotics cleared the infection.
Unfortunately, Jenkins’ story is all too common. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation will see about 25,000 cases of Lyme Disease this year. Of these, 96% will be in New England and the rest of the Northeast, where the deer that cart around the Lyme-bearing ticks tend to thrive. The CDC cautioned that these poppy seed-sized ticks tend to favor high grass, low brush, and woodlands—which describes much of Stow.
In addition, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society estimated that up to half of tests for Lyme cases come back with a false negative.
Jenkins mentioned that his own doctor predicted at least 75 more cases in their office by next year.
“This is nothing to fool with,” Jenkins pleaded, noting that untreated Lyme can get into the nervous system and brain, causing permanent damage, sometimes worse. “A woman died in Florida recently, because her doctor said there’s no Lyme disease in Florida,” and failed to treat it, he said.
Keeping ticks away isn’t complicated. When walking around on the ground, grass, or near brush, wearing long pants tucked into socks, along with closed-toed shoes, is best. However, it’s understandable that this may be uncomfortable on hot summer days, so try to remember to apply DEET-based bug repellant on bare feet and legs before heading out.
“Remember to check yourself [for ticks] every night, and check the kids,” Jenkins advised. “Lyme is so devastating, people don’t realize.”