Push to fight Lyme disease as summer nears

FILE - This is a March 2002 file photo of a deer tick under a microscope in the entomology lab at the University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown, R.I. Researchers focused on ticks and the debilitating diseases they spread say the heavy snow that blanketed the Northeast this winter was like a cozy quilt for baby blacklegged ticks that are now questing for blood as the weather warms up. (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) – It’s an important anniversary of a dangerous disease. It was 40 years ago that some children in the town of Lyme started getting what appeared to be arthritis. Now we call it Lyme disease, but there is still a lot we don’t know in the fight against a terribly debilitating illness.

“This is about human beings and their lives totally being destroyed,” said Trumbull resident Doug Wheeler.

He was speaking in Bridgeport’s Seaside Park at a press conference to draw attention to how little we know about Lyme disease. We do know that Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks. Doug Wheeler’s son Max got bit when he was a healthy kid, and a star on the baseball diamond.

“And the next thing you know, he is fatigued,” Doug Wheeler remembered. “His joints are hurting him. He’s got nausea. He’s got migraine headaches.”

Young Max even ended up in a wheelchair. The trouble with Lyme is, many doctors don’t recognize it.

“I went to 18 different doctors,” Doug Wheeler explained. “Nobody could figure out what he had.”

He was joined at the press conference by health officials and politicians all trying to prevent that kind of misdiagnosis from happening to others.

“We need a new vaccine,” said State Epidemiologist Dr.Matthew Cartter. “We need better ways to control ticks, because 20 years with so many cases is just not OK.”

For the last 20 years, Connecticut had around 3,000 cases of Lyme a year, and experts say only one out of ten cases gets reported. Senator Richard Blumenthal is re-introducing what is called the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Protection, Education and Research Act.

“To provide increased research funding, better advice to the government about how to use its money to fight Lyme and increase education and awareness,” Sen. Blumenthal said.

Doug’s son Max is no longer in a wheelchair, but Lyme has taken a huge toll on his life.

“If we had been diagnosed properly years ago, he wouldn’t be going through this,” Wheeler said.

To prevent you and your family from getting Lyme disease, try to remember the acronym BLAST:

-Bath, as in take one after you’ve been outside.
-Look for ticks
-Apply repellant
-Spray your yard
-Treat your pets

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