Special Report: The Tick and the Bite, Part II

Updated: 07/10/2014 10:44 PM
Created: 07/10/2014 6:28 PM

Tick-borne disease can happen to anyone. That’s exactly why Kristine Hiller, a park naturalist at Jay Cooke State Park, is using a program to help teach kids how to be aware of tick-borne diseases while not being alarmed.

"We’re trying to expose kids to insects in a good way,” Hiller said. “We also do try to tell about things they need to be aware of too like the ticks what kind of precautions are you going to take while you're out there.”

With tick diseases reaching record numbers in Minnesota last year and the Minnesota Department of health forecasting an equally big problem for 2014, Charlotte Copiskey, who has suffered from Lyme disease since the early 1990s, said it’s education that can reverse this statistic.

Copiskey was out haying at her farm and came inside for a break when she found a deer tick on her leg.

“I picked it off, and I said, ‘Wow, this tick is just a baby tick, and I was playing with it,” Copiskey said. “I didn’t know anything about Lyme disease back then.”

The deer tick is the most responsible for spreading infectious diseases such as Lyme, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis. Dr. Johan Bakken is an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth and said the summer months are when ticks are most active and when Lyme disease contraction and diagnosis are at a high.

“Unfortunately, it also correlates with school is out and people go on vacation, and the weather’s nicest, so we make efforts to go into tick endemic areas on our camping trip or whatever we do,” Bakken said.

Copiskey said it was about two months after being bit that she started experiencing Lyme disease symptoms including: severe headaches, joint pain, sensitivity to light and memory loss.

“I couldn’t get out of bed. Every joint in my body hurt,” she said.

After being diagnosed with Lyme disease, Copiskey fought for prolonged treatment because she kept experiencing symptoms after doctors told her they could no longer keep treating her. Instead, she resorted to natural remedies.

“Most of my medications are supplements, and I do a lot of young living oils because I do not have a physician here in the Duluth area that treats Lyme for longer than 21 days … They say it’s enough and you’re cured, but it’s not,” Copiskey said.

However, Bakken said Lyme disease can sometimes send confusing signals and that about one month is often all the time doctors need to treat their patients.

“The duration of treatment ranges anywhere from 10 days up to a month,” Bakken said. “There's no documented evidence to suggest that treatment beyond a month is of any value."

He said patients treated with certain antibiotics may continue having the same symptoms after a month of treatment, but he attributes that to an activated immune system, not the presence of live bacteria.

"Some people misinterpret the presence of persistent symptoms to mean that they continue to have an active infection,” Bakken said. “That has caused some confusion among medical practitioners and many patients."

But Copiskey continues to fight for treatment, now sharing her stories and experiences on a Facebook page she administers called “Lyme: One Day at a Time.” She said the page has more than 6,000 followers- one of those Sarah Hansberry, who Copiskey met through interacting on the page.

Hansberry contracted Lyme disease when she was 14 years old, and while she is currently in remission, it’s still difficult to function.

“I still l struggle,” Hansberry said. “I can’t work because I don’t have enough energy to work.”

Bakken said prevention is the best way to avoid these diseases, and it is important to consult a doctor if these symptoms arrive.

"You shouldn't feel comforted when you’re told in July you've developed high spiking fevers, shaking chills and body aches and headaches that this is due to influenza and it'll go away by itself,” Bakken said.

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