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Lyme disease present in Rowan County

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

Local residents who’ve dealt with Lyme disease say that early detection and treatment is the key to what can be a tricky condition.

Another problem is that, while the disease has been seen in the Northeast for some 20 years, it’s been less common here. Until now — with the increase of the deer population and with it, blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks.

“It is in North Carolina,” says Salisbury resident Mark Ritchie. “I tested positive for Lyme disease. I want to push the medical community to get familiar with Lyme disease, and do more than the CDC standards of care. Everybody I’ve talked to that has battled with Lyme disease will say the same thing.”

Robin Baltimore, spokeswoman with Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, said that Novant physicians she had contacted declined to be interviewed.

But Dr. Chris Agner of Rowan Diagnostic Clinic says that his clinic sees patients with Lyme disease occasionally. “It’s much less common here than in the Northeast.”

He adds, “The majority of cases of acute Lyme disease are really not that tricky, if you have a rash, and have a history of exposure to deer ticks. Where you get into issues is with people who feel like they have chronic Lyme disease. If you treat it early, you can prevent late complications. Treatment of late complications is not as successful.”

Agner adds that diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia can be misdiagnosed as Lyme disease.

The standards from the Centers for Disease Control recommend a 10-14 day course of antibiotic treatment, although Ritchie has since learned from personal experience that a 28-day course is much more effective.

Ritchie and his wife, Jane, who live in Summerfield, walk their property frequently. On April 27 after their walk, his wife found a dog tick on herself, but Ritchie thought he was tick-free. Following a trip to Germany in May, he noticed a stiffness in the back of his legs, but attributed it to travel by plane and bus. The next day, he couldn’t turn his head, and a couple of days later, developed what he thought was a cold.

When Ritchie saw his doctor, his symptoms were stiff neck, fatigue and cold-like symptoms.

“You put those three things in a computer, and it looks just like Lyme disease,” Ritchie says. “My doctor ordered a blood test. In the meantime, the mistake my doctor made was treating the more severe symptoms with steroids, which suppressed my immune system and sent me down the wrong road.”

Ritchie’s test came back positive for Lyme disease, but he only took antibiotics for 10 days. He was not better after that course of antibiotics, and was then put on a 28-day treatment — what he realizes now should have happened first.

“I lost three weeks of treatment,” he says. “This whole window of time had been lost. It did help, but I was only about 50 percent better.”

His research sent him to Dr. John Pittman, a physician with the Carolina Center for Integrative Medicine in Raleigh.

“I felt like a quick intervention would make a dramatic difference,” Ritchie says.

By August, when he saw Pittman, Ritchie had begun to experience mental disorientation — another symptom of the disease. As part of the clinic’s holistic approach to treatment, Ritchie began a diet that was gluten-free, dairy-free and caffeine-free. The selection of meat, beans, vegetable, fruits and nuts is similar to the paleo diet.

“I’ve never been hungry, and I’ve lost 12 pounds,” Ritchie says. He’s also continuing the antibiotic regimen and immune-boosting supplements. He hopes to be well by the first of the year.

“I have made continuous improvement with muscle pain, energy restoration and mental orientation,” he says. “I’m 85 percent well now, and I do believe I’ll be 100 percent well.”

He adds, “I’ve had friends who have taken the 28-day antibiotic regimen and have never had a problem since. I want to make sure that doctors in Rowan County do understand that Lyme disease is here. They need to know how to treat it. I did my self-analysis, but I did not get the right treatment. I’m very frustrated I couldn’t get proper treatment, even after getting a diagnosis.”

Younger Mattox is new patient coordinator at the Carolina Center for Integrative Medicine. A Salisbury native, Mattox explains that Pittman is the only Lyme-literate specialist in several states. The majority of Pittman’s patients are acute patients, he says, and he’s now scheduling appointments through mid-January.

Although the 28-day antibiotic treatment does cure most patients if they start therapy in time, that’s not always the case, Mattox says. And that’s the problem.

“It can wreak havoc on the neurological and hormonal systems, and on memory,” Mattox says. “Our health-care system is not prepared for this. This is not where one pill will take care of everything, it simply does not work like that as there are so many different outlying factors, that is, exposure to mold, heavy metals, yeast overgrowth, etc.”

The initial onset of Lyme disease can cause joint pain, flu-like symptoms and headaches, and patients may or may not have a rash. Acute onset requires minimal treatment, but more complicated cases may require more aggressive therapy, Mattox says, such as IV immunoglobulin therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Because the clinic practices integrative medicine, homeopathic therapies such as a gluten-free diet are also added.

Doug Robinson also experienced a delay in treatment. His wife, Lynne, found a tick on the back of his leg just after the Fourth of July in 2007. They went to his primary-care physician, who told him Lyme disease was not in this area. He took antibiotics, but began to feel worse. It was not until October 2007, when he saw a new general practitioner from the Boston area, who immediately diagnosed him with Lyme disease. He then saw Dr. Joseph Jemseck, who now practices in Washington, D.C., in January 2008, and began an IV antibiotic regimen that lasted nearly the rest of the year.

“All of this was a cash-only treatment,” Robinson says. “It became quite expensive. We put a second mortgage on our house to do this.”

Robinson continues to take antibiotic treatments. A former systems analyst, he’s now on disability.

“It’s up and down,” he says. “I’ll have a good week, but then I’ll have bad weeks when I’m immobile. It is a controversial subject in the medical community. I don’t feel as isolated as I did at one point.”

Patti Lyerly, owner of Lyerly Counseling, is considering establishing a Lyme disease support group. She believes she was infected as a child, but only 10 years ago received a formal diagnosis.

“I am a lot better now,” Lyerly says. “I was extremely ill.”

Lyerly has improved through a combination of antibiotics and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. She is also using hypnosis and essential oils, along with cutting flour and sugar from her diet. Along with Robinson, she is also a patient of Jemseck.

If you’re interested in being part of a local Lyme disease support group, call Patti Lyerly at 704-639-9973.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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