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Brian F's Story

From the Observer-Reporter Online,
"The Color of Southwestern Pennsylvania" web site:


Ticked Off


Brian Forman's life has been nearly ruined by a bug the size of a pinhead. A former high school football standout at Jefferson-Morgan High School and a wrestler, Forman, 33, of Jefferson, Greene County, prided himself on his fitness. He worked out regularly, ran 5 miles a day, hunted, loved his job building golf courses, and roughhoused tirelessly with his two daughters.

That changed eight years ago, when Forman was bitten by a tick and developed Lyme disease. Caught quickly, Lyme disease nearly always can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Forman's illness, however, was misdiagnosed for years and progressed to late-stage Lyme disease. As a result, Forman suffers from severe symptoms, including damage to the heart and nervous system, arthritis, memory loss and weight gain, leaving him unable to work.

His hands and feet go numb, he gets excruciating headaches, he's constantly tired, and he experiences frequent muscle tics. "It's kind of rough. I was completely healthy and normal at one time, and then this hits you," said Forman, whose shoulders and legs twitch visibly at times. "I want people to know about this disease because I don't want anybody to have to go through what I'm going through."

Forman had come into contact with ticks while hunting and working on golf courses, but was not concerned about contracting Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacteria called a spirochete - a thin, spiral parasite that is carried by deer ticks and passed on to humans when they are bitten by an infected tick. Don't assume Lyme disease can be picked up only in woods. It can be contracted in almost any outdoor location - at a golf course, in the back yard or at a picnic area.

According to recent reports, Lyme disease is reaching epidemic proportions nationally, and Pennsylvania ranks third in reported cases. Most cases of Lyme disease are concentrated in the northeastern and north central regions of the country. New York and New Jersey have the highest reported cases, and high incidences are found in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Minnesota and California.

Lyme disease expert Dr. Jan Humphreys of Indiana University of Pennsylvania said this year's mild winter and heavy rainfall are ideal breeding weather for the Lyme tick and pointed out that cases have been reported in nearly all other areas throughout the state. "Greene and Washington counties are fairly low risk, but people should always be on the lookout," said Humphreys.

Humphreys advises taking preventive steps to avoid contact with the Lyme tick and other disease-carrying tick by wearing light-colored clothing, so ticks easily show up and can be removed. He also advises long-sleeved shirts and long pants for added protection. A tick must be embedded in the skin for up to 40 hours before a person actually contracts the disease, and Humphreys stressed that a person doesn't need to panic at the first sight of a tick.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a vaccine to prevent Lyme disease, but its useful only in people who have never been bitten by a tick. Also, it can take as long as a year to become effective. The state Department of Health recorded 2,012 cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania in 1997, including two in Washington County and seven in Greene County. More than 14,000 new cases were reported across the United States last year.

Those statistics are misleading, however, because many cases, like Forman's, go undiagnosed. Forman has started an informal support group with about eight other Greene County residents whose Lyme disease was not diagnosed for several years. "One of the most difficult aspects of Lyme disease is the diagnosis," said David L. Weld, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

"Lyme mimics so many other ailments, and there isn't any single set of symptoms, other than a rash in some patients, that a doctor can use to make a definite diagnosis." The FDA said diagnosis is further complicated because a positive test result of a common Lyme disease test does not necessarily indicate Lyme disease infection, and patients with active Lyme disease may have a negative test result. Taking antibiotics also can result in false negative results.

"Physicians are advised to base a diagnosis on history, including symptoms and exposure to the tick vector, physical findings and laboratory data other than anti-Bb results," said Dr. D. Bruce Burlington, director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

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