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Doctors see more Lyme disease

DETROIT LAKES - Lyme disease is one the fastest spreading infectious diseases in the United States today, with some 200,000-plus people stricken each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Spread by deer ticks, it hasn't been much of a problem in northwest Minnesota -- until now.

"The last few years, if you look at the maps of distribution (of reported cases), you'll see it's been marching westward across Minnesota," said Dr. Mark Lindquist, director of emergency services at St. Mary's Innovis Health.

He said the hospital has performed serologic testing (used to detect the disease) on 16 patients in the emergency room this summer, and three of them were diagnosed as positive.

"We're seeing a lot more of it now," he said. "It wasn't really a concern 10 years ago -- now it is, along with the West Nile virus and ehrlichiosis, another tick-borne disease that looks a lot like Lyme's."

In fact, all three of these illnesses -- West Nile, Lyme's and ehrlichiosis --exhibit similar symptoms, such as fever, aching muscles and joints, headaches, and feeling like you have the flu.

"The prevalence of West Nile goes up in late summer and early fall -- we have run some tests for it, but I don't think we've seen any in the ER," Lindquist said. "There's been a case reported in Becker County, but I don't know where it came from (the identity of patients diagnosed with West Nile and other illnesses is protected under federal privacy laws)."

There were, however, some individuals diagnosed with Lyme's disease who live in Becker County that were willing to be interviewed.

Kyle Erickson, who lives on Height of Land Lake, said he was just diagnosed with the disease a couple of weeks ago.

"I'm still on the antibiotics," he added.

The problem first arose when he found a tick embedded between his toes.

"I just picked it off and didn't think anything of it," he said. "It was one week later that I got sick.

"I had a temperature of 103 (degrees Fahrenheit) for about three days, then it dropped to 100-101," he said. "I still thought it was just the flu. Then I woke up one morning and my knees were so stiff I could hardly bend them."

Also, the site of the original tick bite had "blistered -- like a burn," Erickson said. "I guess my foot swelled up some, but the swelling went down after a couple of days. It kept crossing my mind (to get it checked out), but I was in denial, I guess."

Eventually, though, the symptoms became more than he could bear.

"It felt like I had the flu and pneumonia and arthritis all at the same time," he said. "Besides having a fever and a little bit of nausea, my chest was all congested and I was coughing continuously -- but the symptoms are different for everyone."

Alycia Jenson, who works in Detroit Lakes Newspapers' production department, went into the hospital for a high fever last week.

"Because I'm pregnant, I was concerned that I couldn't get my fever down," she said. "I was told you shouldn't let your fever run over 102 (degrees) when pregnant, because it can cause birth defects. I was at 103.7 degrees, and I normally run a little low (i.e., below the standard 98.6 degrees).

"I had no clue (what was going on)," she continued. "For four weeks, I had been having these rashes on my legs that looked like bruises. They didn't hurt, they didn't itch -- I didn't know what they were."

Finally, it got to the point where "every joint in my whole body ached -- I couldn't lift my arms up very high."

What made it even worse is that the only pain medication she was able to take while pregnant was Tylenol.

"It helped with the fever, but not the aching," she said.

Jenson was hospitalized from Wednesday afternoon, July 30, until Friday afternoon, Aug. 1.

"They wanted to keep me longer, but they said if I came in for an IV treatment every morning at the E.R., they'd let me go, and I decided I'd rather be home."

On Sunday, Jenson said, she was still feeling "a little fatigued," but by Monday, "I was feeling fine again."