Ward 7 City Councilor Rick Ford was stunned last month when his older brother, Thomas Ford, 62, died after suffering complications he believes was tied to Lyme disease.
“His truck had broken down and when the guys came to pick him up for work they found him passed out in his room,” Ford said.
A contractor who lived on the South Shore, Thomas Ford worked outside often and was in or around wooded areas, Rick Ford said. The idea that Thomas Ford would have Lyme disease wasn’t shocking but the that he may have died from it was, Rick Ford said.
“He had a bleeding ulcer but he had surgery and they fixed that,” Ford said. “When they looked at his blood work though they discovered he had Lyme disease. It was almost like a chain reaction.”
Doctors put Thomas Ford on a heavy dose of antibiotics but Rick Ford said the medication did not help. Doctors later put Thomas into an induced coma and Rick Ford said that’s when his brother’s liver and kidneys began shutting down. Within two weeks Thomas Ford was dead.
“They just couldn’t stop it,” Rick Ford said.
Rick Ford said it is probably a combination of things that killed his brother but his conversations always circle back to Lyme disease.
Dr. Barbara Lambl chief epidemiologist for North Shore Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Department, said Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, a bacteria that just appeared on the medical scene this year, are not typically deadly.
Lyme disease has several stages of symptoms. The first is a fever and a “bulls-eye rash,” Lambl said.
“But it doesn’t have to be an exact bulls-eye,” she said. “Just a red round rash.”
Left untreated the disease can turn into arthritis or meningitis in two-to-four weeks, she said.
“It’s completely treatable and curable but the diagnosis has to be made,” she said. “The doctor has to think about it and first the patient has to go to the doctor.”
Lambl said the tricky part is patients often don’t remember getting bit by a tick so they fail to mention it to their doctors. The deer tick, which carries Lyme disease is tiny, it’s bite painless and it detaches itself within several hours, Lambl explained. It is conceivable that someone could be bitten and never know it.
“If you’re lucky you get a target lesion and you’ll know something is wrong,” she said. “But sometimes you will get it in a place you don’t see like behind your ear or on your back and (deer ticks) are so tiny it’s easy to miss.”
Left untreated indefinitely Lambl said Lyme disease could eventually affect the brain, heart and joints.
“But having said that many people who get a tick bite get Lyme in their system but don’t get sick because their body fights it off,” she said.
Anaplasmosis is carried by the same deer ticks that carry Lyme and can be even more tricky to detect, Lambl said. It also presents with a fever but no rash. It’s symptoms include muscle aches, weakness and low blood counts and a general unwell feeling. It can also often show up with Lyme disease.
“It’s a relatively new disease,” she said. “There were only five cases reported last year and it’s also difficult to diagnose but very easy to treat once you do. Anaplasmosis can really knock the stuffing out of somebody but it is totally curable. Lyme disease is totally curable.”
To ward off ticks, Lambl said people headed into the garden or the woods should put on Deep Woods Off with deet, an active ingredient in insect repellents, and wear trousers and long sleeves. She said people should also check themselves for ticks after they come in. Ticks have to be attached for 24 hours in order to pass the infection.
“That’s especially important for children because they’re running around all day playing in the woods,” she said.
Lambl said if you are bitten by a tick and are concerned at all that you might have Lyme tell your doctor.