Defuse the ticking time bomb of Lyme disease

By Gerald Arkin

It’s been about a year since my daughter was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. More precisely the diagnosis was tertiary, or third stage, meaning she went undiagnosed for years after being bitten by an infected tick.

Prior to her diagnosis, there were years of doctor appointments in various specialties, with varieties of medications, treatments, and procedures prescribed to alleviate the many issues she suffered. Nothing cured the overall problems and she continued to suffer the kind of debilitating life quality that causes many sufferers to consider ending their misery, which some do.

When the results came back positive, a new course of action began. The “fix” is not overnight and it’s not known if the disease can be totally cured, but for now, any relief is a gift.

It’s bad enough that my daughter and her family are having to deal with this tick-borne infectious disease, but there are countless other people who are fighting their own similar agonizing battles. Unfortunately, not unlike in the early days of treating HIV/AIDS, the diagnoses and treatment protocols for this infectious disease are not established, and are surrounded by myth and swirling controversy. The result is that those suffering feel they are on their own.

These tick-borne infections are horrific, and there are more kinds than many people realize. One rare type, Powassan virus, left former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina largely incapacitated for years, and it led to her death last week.

It is past time for the CDC and medical practitioners and their professional societies to recognize the Lyme disease scourge for what it is and develop the treatment protocols and policies to combat it.


Making matters worse is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 report on climate change identified the spread of tick-borne diseases as the canary in the mine, an early omen of climate change troubles to come. Warmer temperatures have allowed various ticks to expand their habitats to just about every state in the country. And where they already had accommodating habitats, they now have longer seasons to wreak their havoc and infect greater numbers of animals, and in particular us.

I’m now in my 70s, and I and others my age look back and can’t remember seeing ticks on our bodies or worrying about tick-borne diseases when we were kids playing outdoors. Not so today. Hunters, hikers, rock climbers, farmers, gardeners, kids, pets, warm-blooded anything, be aware. Be watchful. Take necessary protective measures.

And this is the worst part of Lyme disease. Bitten by a tick, you might not notice the tick or the ensuing rash, if one indeed appears. Whether you are treated or not, you might never suffer from that bite. But in some cases, months or years later, the organism(s) the tick injected in your body may come out of hiding and attack every organ of your body. Not pretty. My guess is that you know someone battling this or another tick-borne infectious disease. If not, you soon will.

Lyme disease is notoriously underreported, by as much as 30-to-1, so diagnosed cases understate the critical nature of the disease and the associated physical and emotional pain of the infected. Expediting the search for a Lyme disease cure, especially for chronic sufferers, is dependent on the pressure exerted by having a realistic count of sufferers. It’s up to medical professionals, their suffering patients and families to persuade state and federal officials to provide needed funding for research, treatment and education.

Gerald Arkin is a retired University of Georgia administrator. Prior to that, he was a Texas A&M University administrator and biological and environmental systems research scientist.