Lyme disease is a mysterious chameleon of an illness. For some people, it is no worse than getting the flu, and after being treated with antibiotics, it disappears.
But for others, Lyme is much more serious and even after treatment there can be ongoing symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, muscle aches, paralysis, Bell’s palsy, and memory loss. In extreme cases, there can also be permanent damage to the joints or nervous system.
To get a better understanding about this tickborne disease, there are numerous research programs going on in the area, each focusing on a different aspect of Lyme disease.
At Western Connecticut State University, a Bait Box Intervention (BBI) study is underway to study ticks and determine if treating backyard mice with an insecticide can reduce the number of human cases of Lyme disease.
A seperate BBI study is being done in Redding as part of the four-year Centers for Disease Control Integrated Tick Management study (CDC-ITM), headed by Dr. Kirby Stafford.
At Danbury Hospital, the Western Connecticut Lyme Disease Registry is compiling an information database from people who have had Lyme disease, with the goal of improving Lyme diagnosis and treatment.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease was first recognized in 1975, in Old Lyme, Conn. It is an illness caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged or deer ticks.
Ticks get the bacteria from white-footed mice, other rodents, and some birds. In their nymphal stage, the ticks are about the size of a poppy seed or the period at the end of a sentence.
The ticks can be found in grassy and wooded areas where they are waiting for warm bodies to grasp onto. They do not jump, fly, or fall out of trees. The ticks are generally picked up on the lower legs and crawl up the body. A tick bite is usually painless, and most people are unaware they’ve been bitten.
Statistics show that most people become infected with Lyme disease May through July, when nymphs are searching for a meal, according to the Connecticut Department of Health (DPH).
Abundant snow and a wet spring have created an “ideal condition” for ticks to come out in Weston, according to David Brant, executive director of the Aspetuck Land Trust. He advises people walking through the woods and land trust properties to cover their legs and feet, and stay on marked trails.
According to the DPH, the incidence of Lyme disease is due to a number of factors, including:
• Tick abundance
• Deer population
• Recognition of the disease
• Residence in a wooded area
• Potential for contact with ticks
• Physician reporting of disease
In 2013, there were 2,918 cases of confirmed or probable Lyme disease reported in Connecticut. Of those, 442 cases were reported in Fairfield County — 13 in Redding. Of those 13, nine were confirmed cases of Lyme disease and four were probable.
Neighboring towns such as Ridgefield had 24 confirmed cases, Weston and Wilton had five, Easton had 12 and Bethel had 17. These confirmed cases are all increases over 2012.
At Danbury Hospital, the Western Connecticut Health Network Lyme Disease Registry was formed to create a database about Lyme disease for medical research purposes.
The registry was started by a grant from Laura and Dale Kutnick of Ridgefield, whose child suffered severe chronic conditions from Lyme disease.
The goal of the registry is to help with the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme.
As part of the registry process, people who have had Lyme disease are asked to explain how they have been affected, and provide details about any persistent symptoms they have.
Amber Butler, the registry’s research associate, said the more people who respond to the registry, the better, because it will show the complicated nature of Lyme disease, and how people can be affected years after being diagnosed with it. “There has been a lack of research and information about Lyme, so the goal is to try to get a better understanding about it,” she said.
The Redding Health Department sends ticks to the Connecticut Agricultural Station for testing.
Residents who find ticks may place the tick in a plastic sandwich bag and fill out an information form located at the health department office. The form may also be downloaded and printed from the town website.
The tick will be tested to determine if it is infected with Lyme disease. Results take three to five weeks but Lyme disease symptoms should be responded to immediately. The incubation period from infection to symptom onset can be as short as three days and as long as 30 days.
Symptoms include flu-like symptoms with fever and chills, rash, fatigue, headache, joint aches and muscle aches.
Test results can provide helpful information; however, all decisions concerning treatment should be made with a personal, health care professional.
More information on tick-born illnesses may be found at the health department office, online at townofreddingct.org or calling 203-938-2559.
Kaitlin Bradshaw contributed to this story.