Despite data, Lyme disease sufferers say infection has arrived in Utah

Published: Saturday, Feb. 11 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

Alyssa changed for the worse after attending a weeklong girls camp in the Heber Valley during June 2010. She came home with a tick attached to her hip. Holt said she helped to remove it and three weeks later, her daughter became ill with flu-like symptoms that were very persistent.

At least 20 doctors had different solutions for the Layton teen, the evidence of the effort kept in a 4-inch binder full of documents pertaining to her medical history.

"It's hard, because on a regular day, she still looks pretty good. She just feels awful," Holt said. An out-of-state doctor agreed to treat Alyssa.

Holt recently happened upon the Utah Lyme Disease Alliance, a group of victims and their family members who share ideas and an understanding of how to make life with Lyme disease more bearable.

After years of suffering and receipt of varying diagnoses, Steven Baugh also found the support group. He believes he must have contracted Lyme disease during a family history excursion in the Midwest nearly 17 years ago.

"My wife and I came back from visiting a cemetery and we were covered with ticks," he said. "I had bites from ticks and chiggers all over my body."

In the years since, doctors have tried antidepressants and other medications, in an attempt to alleviate the now-64-year-old man's pain, or perhaps convince him that he "must be crazy," Baugh said. He used to run marathons, founded the "Wasatch 100" even; but he can barely hike anymore. And he only does that "on a good day," he said.

"It is a tough disease and is very misunderstood by both the general public and many in the medical community," Baugh added.

Jenny Bezzant, Mrs. Utah 2010, who suffers from complications of Lyme disease contracted during an internship as a midwife in Russia in 1996, was moved to action after trying to find effective treatment for her own condition that nearly did her in.

"I really thought I was going to lose my life as I knew it, and nobody seemed to care," Bezzant said.

A naturopathic practitioner has been treating Bezzant with vitamins and supplements, which has kept her off strict and often lengthy and expensive courses of antibiotics — the typical treatment for the emergent symptoms of Lyme disease.

While she lacks her own official clinical diagnosis, Bezzant feels the pain and is adamant to find help for others suffering with similarly debilitating symptoms.

"It is a very serious illness," said Baker, who is a spokeswoman for the local alliance. "Lyme disease is getting a lot of attention all over the country, as more people are coming down with symptoms similar to those indicative of the disease."

Ticks also carry other infectious diseases, such as Colorado tick fever and Rocky Mountain spotted fever — both equally concerning as Lyme disease, she said.

As the country's most prevalent vector-borne illness, Lyme disease infects more than 35,000 people each year. If treated early enough, symptoms may disappear, but long-term effects are greater and more severe. According to the CDC, common misdiagnoses for Lyme disease include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as well as attention-deficit disorder and autism.

Symptoms can manifest themselves neurologically, with memory issues, as well as intramuscularly, much like arthritis.

Mark Ossola, 13, who was bit with a tick while at Boy Scout camp in July 2009, said he now tires easily and can no longer do what he used to.

"It hurts like I've been hit," he said. He can only take about three minutes of a basketball game at a time.

Mark came home with a bull's-eye-shaped rash, typical for the beginning stages of Lyme disease. When a neighbor who is a physician dismissed it, the family did as well — until Mark started experiencing unusual pain throughout his body.

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