What happens when coronavirus and Lyme disease intersect? It's a scary time for patients
Are you removing ticks correctly? Here’s everything you need to know about ticks and how you can combat Lyme disease. USA TODAY
With overlapping symptoms and a ferocious tick season already upon us, we’re in for a confusing — and dangerous — summer.
In mid-March, shortly after coronavirus quarantine rules went into effect in New York, sportscaster and former professional tennis player Patrick McEnroe went out for a run in a local park. An itch on his upper-arm a day later revealed an embedded tick, which he promptly removed. After urging from his wife, he sent the tick to a lab to test if it was infected with Lyme.
Normally energetic, McEnroe soon became lethargic and short of breath; he had trouble sleeping and, in the hours he did, his dreams were uncharacteristically bizarre. When his fever hit 100 degrees for two consecutive days, he was tested for COVID-19. His tick test returned positive for Lyme. The next day, his COVID-19 test came back positive, too.
This scenario points to a looming crisis. What happens when a pandemic meets another health crisis? With overlapping symptoms and a ferocious tick season already upon us, we’re in for a confusing — and dangerous — summer.
As two people who have lived with Chronic Lyme for many years, we are well-acquainted with the potential of a rampant, misunderstood infection to alter reality. We also know what can happen when ities are unclear about precautions and treatment. In fact, we have watched the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic unfurl with weary familiarity.
Misinformation began as early as Feb. 19 when “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #coronavirus!”
Of course, time has shown us otherwise.
Misinformation about Lyme common
The same types of dangerous misinformation have plagued Lyme. “It’s not a big deal if you get (it),” Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a pediatrician, said. “It’s easy to treat and cure.”
If only that were true!
The cost of inaccurate pronouncements by government officials has been devastating. Originally we were told that COVID-19’s hallmark symptoms were limited to a cough, fever and shortness of breath.
Likewise, with Lyme, we are told to look for a bullseye rash and flu-like symptoms. However, neither are always present, and physical symptoms are often delayed until the initial bite has been forgotten.
Even if you get a “classic” Lyme symptom, many doctors refuse to prescribe antibiotics without a positive test result. Sadly, Lyme tests are notoriously inaccurate.
Worse, by the time results arrive, the infection may have disseminated, causing potentially life-long symptoms that could have been eliminated if appropriately treated early.
When the world first heard that pre-existing conditions can lead to a higher risk for COVID-19 fatalities, it sent an immediate chill through those who struggle with Lyme Disease.
Fortunately, Lyme specialists — with their long history of outside-the-box thinking, trial-and-error approach and personalized medicine — have done a great job managing their COVID-19 patients.
When Project Lyme Board member David Roth contracted COVID-19, his general practitioner had little to offer. Roth turned to his long-time Lyme physician, Dr. Richard Horowitz, who quickly got Roth on a protocol that included Hydroxychloroquine, zinc, zithromax and glutathione. Although Roth still has a few lingering symptoms such as fatigue, he feels the worst is over.
Facebook group provides support
Roth’s experience led him to create a Facebook Group, sponsored by Project Lyme, for people dealing with COVID-19 and Lyme. As social distancing recommendations relax with the warmer weather, Project Lyme's COVID-19 and Lyme page may provide a useful resource.
It may feel to many like COVID-19 is behind us, but experts have warned we are only at the beginning. Don’t just familiarize yourself with the growing panoply of COVID-19 symptoms. Make sure you also know the long list of Lyme symptoms, a list which goes much further than you, and your doctor, might think. A good place to begin your Lyme symptom education is with Dr. Joe Burrascano’s checklist.
And if you do find a tick on yourself, take the advice of prominent tick-borne disease ity Dr. Steven Phillips: “I advise treating tick bites immediately. Waiting for symptoms is unwise. I offer my patients two weeks of doxycycline. I’ve not seen a new case of Lyme following this regimen.”
Isabel Rose is a writer and board member of Project Lyme. She has lived with Chronic Lyme Disease for more than 40 years. Dana Parish is a Sony/ATV songwriter whose life was derailed by a tick bite in 2014. She is co- of the forthcoming, “CHRONIC: The Hidden Cause of the Autoimmune Pandemic and How to Get Healthy Again,” with Dr. Steven Phillips. Parish sits on the board of Bay Area Lyme Foundation.