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 authorities 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 Dr. Anthony Fauci told us that the risk of getting coronavirus in the United States was “miniscule.”
This was followed by a tweet Feb. 29 from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams: “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 authority 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-author 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.