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Recreation: Don’t let Lyme put the squeeze on you this summer
Outdoors » The tick-borne disease is increasingly becoming a concern in Utah.
First Published May 21 2014 05:50 pm • Last Updated May 21 2014 05:50 pm

Jen Hansen sums up her Puerto Rican vacation two years ago as leaving Salt Lake City as one person and returning as another one.

Unfortunately for her, the changes weren’t like some sort of spiritual or self-centering event that some pilgrimages may spark, but ones she would wish on no one.

At a glance

The lowdown on Lyme

» Less than 70% of people develop a rash.

» 25% of Lyme patients are children.

» Lab tests may be negative in the first 4-6 weeks until antibodies develop.

» Fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, light sensitivity, abdominal pain and arthritis are all common symptoms.

» Symptoms in children include cognitive impairment, outbursts and mood swings, fatigue, gastric distress.

» Lyme disease is a year-round issue, but April through October is considered tick season.

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During the vacation, she developed a rash, then flu-like symptoms, then her hearing and eyesight started to go.

By the time she got home, she indeed was a different person, one whose body felt tortured and wrecked by the symptoms.

Scared and fearful of what the next devastating symptom could be, Hansen finally learned the source of her ailments through a doctor’s exam.

The diagnosis? Lyme disease.

The often-heard-of but little-understood disease is the most common vector-borne illness, or one caused by biting insects or arachnids, in the U.S.

However, because 95 percent of the cases are concentrated in the northeast and upper Midwest, the disease is often misdiagnosed or goes undiagnosed.

Lyme disease is often called an "imitator" because its symptoms mimic other illnesses, which adds to the confusion. Symptoms often are flu-like, can include abdominal pain, tingling or shooting pains, impaired sleep, etc.

Hansen feels lucky the source of her pains was resolved, and now manages the disease as best she can through medications.

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She still has bouts of fatigue and other symptoms such as rashes and hives, but rather than spending her energy dwelling on what has happened to her, she is concentrating on helping spread awareness about the disease.

May has been designated Lyme Disease Awareness Month, with a goal of making the disease more commonly known as we head into the summer months, when people are most often out and about in locations where the transmitting ticks are active.

"People go years without being diagnosed," Hansen said. "Sometimes it’s never diagnosed, and Lyme kills — that’s why I want the awareness to be made. I want to be the face of Lyme. I want others to know that you cannot judge someone by how they look. I looked fine throughout most of this illness and it throws others off. They think because you don’t look sick, you’re not."

Lyme disease is an infection caused by a spirochete (scientific name of Borrelia burgdorferi) that humans get most often from the bite of an infected deer tick.

Commonly, people are infected from immature ticks, which are about the size of a poppy seed, which makes them hard to detect. They can remain attached for several days while they feed, and, unfortunately, the longer they remain attached, the greater the chance they will transmit the disease.

While Lyme disease is found frequently in the East, Midwest and west coast, it is spreading and considered a concern in Utah.

How much of a concern is debatable. While Utah does have tick species that can carry Lyme, studies done more than 20 years ago showed that they were not infected, according to the Utah Office of Epidemiology.

However, no studies have been done in recent years, although the Utah Office of Epidemiology states it "appears a small number of individuals diagnosed with Lyme disease in recent years may have acquired the disease in Utah."

Dr. Andrew Petersen, a Lyme disease specialist who is based out of Provo, believes it is a greater concern and said he has treated more than 150 cases since 2012.

"To be considered a positive, you have to have the true bull’s-eye rash, and a lot of people don’t," he said. "Besides, a lot of people may not know what started it, and a year and a half later it is finally diagnosed as Lyme disease. It shouldn’t matter where you get it, either; it needs to be a concern."

Petersen likened Lyme disease to AIDS when it first started, in that there is so much misinformation.

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