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With summer comes ticks - and risk of Lyme disease: 'It just ruined my life'

(USDA / CC BY 2.0 )

EUGENE, Ore. - Just in time for summer, the CDC says that insect-borne illnesses have tripled since 2004 with more than 640,000 cases reported.

As tick populations rise, so does the concern about Lyme disease.

Every year there are more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported nationwide, but the CDC estimates that the actual number of people with the tick-borne disease is closer to 300,000.

To most people, Glide resident Beth Schultz looked like most people. However, she was battling Lyme disease for more than a decade.

Schultz said her symptoms were crippling, both physically and cognitively. At times she had to walk with a cane and at one point she lost feeling in her legs for a year. She described the fatigue as "crushing."

"From losing partial eye sight to losing my balance," Schultz said. "I really couldn't read a book."

The CDC said a tick as small as a poppy seed can be carrying Lyme disease. A bite usually results in flu-like symptoms, but if left untreated, chronic Lyme disease can affect every organ in your body. Schultz said it is often misdiagnosed. For eight years, Schultz was treated for MS. She said that medication came with other side effects like suicidal depression.

"It just ruined my life," Schultz said.

Now, Schultz said she is controlling the disease using a holistic approach through diet and detoxing.

She also finds support through the online Willamette Valley Lyme Group and the Oregon Lyme Network.

Theresa Denham with the Oregon Lyme Network said doctors should be testing for other tick-borne illnesses that are showing up in the Pacific Northwest, like a new Rickettsial disease. Denham said this disease has shown up from ticks on the Oregon Coast called the Dermacentor Occdentalis, and the disease has symptoms similar to Lyme disease.

"What is becoming more and more clear is that the Dermacentor ticks carry diseases that affect people as badly as Lyme disease affects them," Denham said.

If you display symptoms, of if you have been bitten by a tick, Schultz recommends getting tested and learning how to prevent passing it on to others. Schultz became pregnant with her daughter after she was diagnosed with Lyme.

"I treated my entire pregnancy and she is almost ten and Lyme free," Schultz said. "You have to believe you're going to get better"

To a prevent a tick bite, the CDC recommends using a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, and checking for ticks if you are in a wooded or grassy area.

If you find an attached tick, the Oregon Lyme Network wants to hear from you. They are putting out a call for tick reports so that they can continue to study what diseases the insects are carrying. After visiting a doctor, you can email the tick report to theresa@oregonlyme.com

Dehnam said the number of tick reports they received doubled in the last year. She said they had calls as early as mid-February, and the ticks infected at least two people they were attached to.

If you are struggling with Lyme disease, you can find support online.

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