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A Shelby County woman is recovering from Lyme Disease that she contracted during what she expected to be a peaceful walk on a nature trail in Jefferson County in August.
But in an instant, her mood turned from tranquil to terror, when she glanced down and saw hundreds of ticks climbing up her body; many of them had even made it up past her waist when she spotted them.
“They were very small – they looked like poppy seeds – and they were just covering me, I mean, covering me,” Elizabeth Pulliam said, suppressing a shudder. “I could feel them biting me, and they were small enough to crawl through the mesh in my tennis shoes, and I could feel them biting my feet and ankles. It was so awful.”
Pulliam said she was about two miles into a trail in Jefferson Memorial Park, near Fairdale, at the time, so by the time she hiked back out, the ticks had really dug in.
“All the time I was making my way out of the woods, I could feel them crawling up my legs and waist, and just biting, biting,” she said. “All I wanted to do was get out of there, and get them off on me. I drove to my uncle’s house and jumped in his pool, but that didn’t help. They didn’t come off, so I actually had to take a butter knife, because there were so many, and scrape them off.”
Pulliam said she didn’t think about the ticks making her sick, even when, a few days later, she found a couple she had missed, and even saw a slight rash.
Pulliam, who is director of Shelby Prevention, is very athletic, and she said she was very excited about an upcoming trip she had planned to the Grand Teton in Wyoming at the end of August. She said that’s why she had been hiking that day, training for her climb.
The tick incident happened Aug. 11, and by Aug. 28, when she flew to Denver, she said she felt awful, like she was coming down with the flu.
By Aug. 30, when she and her group began the climb up the Grand Teton, she was experiencing severe flu-like symptoms, but she pressed on, even drinking a strong cup of coffee beforehand.
Five miles into the climb, she was forced to turn back.
“I knew I wasn’t going to make it,” she said.
When she returned to Kentucky on Sept. 6 and went to the doctor, they asked her if she had had any bug bites, she said.
“Had I had bug bites!” she said. “Only a couple of hundred at once.”
“They asked me if I had ever heard of Lyme’s Disease.”
The Center for Disease Control reported three cases of Lyme Disease in Kentucky in 2011, compared to 25 cases in 2002. The only states with fewer than that in 2011 were Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota, with two, and Louisiana and Wyoming, with one.
Three states, Arkansas, Hawaii and Colorado, reported none.
The state with the most cases of Lyme’s Disease in 2011 was Pennsylvania, with 4,739, followed by New Jersey with 3,398, New York, with 3,118, Wisconsin (2,408), Connecticut (2,004), Massachusetts (1,801) and Minnesota (1,185).
The CDC’s Web site says that Lyme disease was first recognized in the United States in 1975 near Lyme, Conn. Since then reports of the disease have increased dramatically, and it has become a public health problem in some areas of the United States, with the heaviest concentrations found in the northeast and upper Midwest regions, because of large deer populations.
Lyme Disease is caused by bacteria spread by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Lyme’s Disease is the most commonly reported “vectorborne” illness in the United States. Last year, it was the sixth most common nationally as identified by the CDC.
The CDC defines this as a disease for which “regular, frequent, and timely information regarding individual cases is considered necessary for the prevention and control of the disease.”
Katie Myatt, entomology expert at the Shelby County Health Department, said she does not know of any reported cases of Lyme Disease in Shelby County, but she urges people to be alert for ticks and to take their bites seriously.
“This is especially true for people living in wooded areas; they have more potential to be bitten,” she said.
Myatt said anyone who has been bitten and who has experienced flu-like symptoms afterward to seek medical attention.
Pulliam, who said she is on the mend, said she is very aware now of how dangerous ticks can be.
“Ticks carry a lot of very nasty bacteria, and some of it can be even worse than Lyme’s,” she said.
Pulliam said she is now involved in a case study of Lyme Disease.
“I have started a blog to raise awareness,” she said. “People don’t think about ticks making them sick, but it’s something everyone should be aware of.”
Pulliam said she wished she had only used bug spray that day.
“You shouldn’t be wary of the woods, just take some bug spray, and pretreat your clothes and shoes,” she said.
“I’m not easily disturbed by anything that happens in the woods, but I was seriously freaked out that day.”