The month of May marks International Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and it’s a more prevalent disease than one would think.
Recently, a support group has developed in Red Deer.
“We’ve only been around and functional since June of last year, and we’re almost 70 members strong right now,” said Echo Armstrong, Red Deer support group leader for the Lyme Disease Association of Alberta.
She said recently alone two new members have called saying they’ve tested positive for the disease.
“When I was at the vet they’ve already had ticks testing positive in Blackfalds for Lyme,” she said.
Armstrong contracted the disease herself in 2008 and knows firsthand the negative effects it can have on someone.
“I no longer hold down a job. I was a social worker full-time and now I don’t work at all,” she said.
Armstrong was diagnosed years later in 2015.
One day, she said, she just couldn’t wake up, so she slept about 20 hours a day. And those four hours she was awake wasn’t all at one time.
“It was like I was fine and then I was not,” she said referring to when she first got Lyme disease.
She also became neurologically impaired and had a hard time moving her legs, walking and being coordinated.
“I had a hard time understanding what was going on around me.”
She believes that part of the reason it took so long for her diagnosis is because it’s not on people’s radar, and it’s an imitator of a lot of different diseases.
The disease, she said, is a lot more common than one would think, and it’s on the rise.
Some of the symptoms include fatigue, neurological impairment, joint pain, brain fog, loss of words, loss of balance and more.
“So it goes between neuroskeletal and neurological, and it’s called the great imitator because it can also look like a lot of diseases,” she said.
She said there’s been many in the Red Deer group that have waited up to 20 years for a diagnosis.
When it originally started in Lyme, Connecticut, she said a good chunk of children were coming down with arthritis at such a young age.
It’s a disease that can relax or remit, and there are times that she needs homecare to sometimes help with her day-to-day living, she said.
“One of the hugest things that we all struggle with is finances.”
With the disease not being that well recognized yet in the community, there are a lot of people paying for herbal treatments, some having gone to Montana for treatment.
“Other people are going to Germany and Mexico. There’s a young girl in Stettler who’s going to Mexico for treatment, and they’re trying to fundraise for it,” said Armstrong.
It’s also a disease that can happen to those in a wide age range. Armstrong said the youngest member in the group is seven and the oldest is 80.
“It knows no age. It knows no gender. It knows no race.”
Along with Lyme there’s about 12 other co-infections that come along with it that can complicate treating and diagnosing it.
Armstrong said prevention tips are the big key, one of the main ones being insect repellent.
She added it can also help to wear long pants or long sleeves when hiking.
“If you’re wearing long pants and you’re in grass or in the bush or hiking, tuck your pants into your socks.”
She said the ticks are so small, with some of them the size of a poppyseed, so one might not feel it in the skin.
Wearing a scarf around your neck or hat on your head can also help, she said.
“Try and give them no avenues up and in your clothes.”
Lastly, she said doing tick checks is important after a hike to make sure you or those around you are okay.
To help spread awareness and prevention tips, the Lyme Disease Association of Alberta will be hosting two events in May to help put this disease on people’s radar.
On May 14th, they will be featuring a double feature matinee of two Lyme disease documentaries called Under Our Skin and Emergence.
That will be held at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery from 1 – 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 each or two for $15 and are available in advance by calling 403-896-4284 or at the door. Popcorn and beverages will also be provided.
The other event will be held May 25th from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery. This will be an information and fundraiser night, with two keynote speakers. Dr. Shaun Riddle and Dr. Ralph Hawkins will be there to share information on Lyme and its co-infections.
For more information visit albertalyme.org.