Tick-borne diseases in the time of COVID

In early July, I was hoping my husband Brian, who was feeling unusually bad about the weather, would recover on his own soon, so that we ...

In early July, I was hoping my husband Brian, who was feeling unusually bad about the weather, would recover on his own soon, so that we could rent an Airbnb on a lake or beach for a few days.

At the end of the month, I just wanted him to get better.

We were increasingly anxious about what was causing his pillow-soaked sweats, violent chills, headaches and neckaches, and extreme fatigue, as a week, then a second, and half the time. third week passed. Despite two visits to an emergency care clinic, a diagnosis of cellulitis and an antibiotic, her condition worsened. An emergency physician at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, for whom we are deeply, deeply grateful, has finally identified the culprit. But it was a confusing journey to revelation. Living in the shadow of COVID, as we all are, hasn’t helped.

The idea that Brian might be part of the unlucky minority of those fully vaccinated to contract a revolutionary infection was still in his mind. He had three COVID tests which all came back negative, a relief on the one hand, he said, but a bit bittersweet, because if he had COVID, at least we would know what was wrong. not at home.

In addition to his other symptoms, Brian had two swollen and red toes. This was another reason we thought he might have the virus as they looked like the COVID toes we had seen in the photos. He showed them to a medical assistant at the clinic who diagnosed them as cellulitis, a bacterial infection that can potentially lead to fatal sepsis in some people. She prescribed me an antibiotic.

It seemed likely that cellulitis could be the cause of Brian’s other symptoms, but although his toes had returned to normal after five days of the antibiotics; headaches and neckaches, fever, chills and fatigue worsened. The first in a series of blood tests did not reveal any abnormalities other than slightly elevated liver enzymes, so she was told to stop taking acetaminophen.

Sometimes after taking ibuprofen Brian felt great and I hoped he was going in the right direction. But then he shivered severely and his skin became clammy. He was sitting on the couch, his eyes closed, and his face turning brick red, then he was sweating through all his clothes. At night he slept in the basement, where it was cooler than our room, but he also had an electric blanket, thick sweaters, and winter hats on or near for when the chills set in. His pillow, blankets, sheets and mattress protector would be soaked when I checked him in the morning.

We entered his symptoms into Google, looking for possible causes. “Check out Lyme disease, meningitis, and the new daily persistent headache syndrome (NDPH),” I called Brian, who was doing his own research. I also researched what would cause erratic fluctuations in temperature and found disturbing references to tumors, enlarged blood vessels in the brain, and cancer. The third COVID test came back negative around this time.

Finally, on the seventeenth day of symptoms, we went to the emergency room, which was almost packed. We got there around 2 p.m., and it was almost 6 a.m. to see the doctor. He had looked at Brian’s chart and blood tests and wasted no time saying, “I think I know what this is.” He asked if Brian was having trouble urinating or aching and checked his stomach for tenderness. “I think you’ve been bitten by a tick,” he said, adding that they had seen a lot of tick-borne illnesses, not just Lyme, in the hospital this summer. These diseases are here now.

“Sure!” I said. We had been thinking of Lyme disease, after all. But he did not stand out in the gallery of suspects.

The doctor ordered two types of antibiotics and intravenous fluids for Brian, and at 9 p.m. we were on our way home, immensely relieved. Blood tests confirmed the next morning that he was suffering from a tick-borne disease called babesiosis, which is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. Less known than Lyme disease, it is one of the most common tick-borne illnesses in Massachusetts, along with Lyme and anaplasmosis, according to Mass.gov, and its severity can range from asymptomatic to fatal.

Two days later, another emergency doctor called to confirm that Brian also had Lyme disease and – pending confirmation, which could take two weeks – anaplasmosis (which attacks white blood cells).

As it says on Mass.gov about blacklegged ticks in the state, “These ticks are capable of spreading more than one type of germ in a single bite.” In the days following our trip to the ER, with Brian showing slow but seemingly steady improvement, I reflected on an anecdote that one of my Facebook friends posted at the start of the pandemic. Dad, asked his precocious little girl (I’m paraphrasing), as they walked on the bike path. Where should I walk so that I am not near other people who may be infected with the coronavirus but not too close to the grass where ticks are hanging out?

Mary Carey is Assistant Professor of Journalism and Public Relations at UMass.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Tick-borne diseases in the time of COVID
Tick-borne diseases in the time of COVID
Newsrust - US Top News
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