What you need to know about Lyme disease ticks invading D.C. area


“He loved to dance,” recalled mother Tabitha Kaza. “He had some really good moves for being a little toddler.”

Sebastian Kaza was bitten by a tick at six months and twice again when he was seven months old on the family’s rural wooded property near Manassas, Virginia.

“A rheumatologist, an allergist, an immunologist, infectious disease. Everyone didn’t have an answer.” Kaza said. “[Sebastian] regained a pulse and was life flighted to Fairfax Hospital where he lived on life support for four days. We learned there was no hope of recovery and we removed him from life support and he died in my arms.”

Something so small can destroy a life with just one bite, or paralyze the young, including Montgomery County college student Cassidy Colbert. She experienced partial paralysis for six months.

“Paralyzed, just about all day, every day, pretty much. I would just be getting stabbed in the foot all of the time, just so I could walk to the bathroom by myself,” said Colbert. “I wouldn’t be able to remember even my own name sometimes. I would be talking to someone and have no idea what I was just saying.”

An aggressive form of the Black Legged Deer Tick is moving from its New England origin and charging south. Greenbelt, Leesburg and Blacksburg are the latest hot spots.

“That change has really radically brought Lyme Disease to our area in an area where we were not necessarily looking for it,” said Dr. Holly Gaff.

Dr. Gaff leads Old Dominion University’s Tick Research Unit. She’s one of the few tracking this potentially deadly backyard bug, one that can live three years and only needs to eat once every year.

What makes this Black Legged Deer Tick special: It’s willingness to walk along tall grass and hunt down people and pets.

“Why is this tick moving in, right? We don’t really know exactly. It’s counter to what we would expect from climate change. I think it’s far more following the explosion of the white tailed deer,” explained Dr. Gaff.

Ticks can actually detect breath and can also figure out when you’re passing by because they have eyes on the back of their body which can detect light change.

Ticks thrive in moisture. So putting clothes first in a washing machine doesn’t kill them. Throw clothes in the dryer first. Second, treat your shoes with products including the chemical permethrin. It will kill ticks when they climb up your leg.

“There is still so much mystery, and so much potential suffering that we could solve if we would acknowledge that these things do happen and we are not in control,” added Kaza.

“Believe all of us when we say it’s a real thing and it’s out there and it is everywhere,” said Colbert.

“I didn’t know that I was bitten. I just had flu-like symptoms and felt really horrible. I couldn’t get out of the tent. I have a lot of muscle aches and brain fog and memory issues,” said Eagle Scout Colin Jackson. He was bitten during a scout camping event.

Dr. Matthew Laurens with the University of Maryland School of Medicine pointed out that you can get your dog immunized from life-altering Lyme Disease but not yourself, “There was a Lyme Disease vaccine which was 80% effective which is very encouraging. However, after its launch in 1998, there was opposition from groups including the anti-vaxxers.”

“It was the very first vaccine that was licensed by the FDA that was subsequently withdrawn from the market and not for safety issues,” added Dr. Laurens.

“I believe we are currently maybe 4 to 5 years away from a potential product licensure,” said CEO Thomas Lingelbach.

There are hopes a Lyme Disease vaccine could save 300,000 Americans the CDC estimates are infected with the disease every year. There’s a big hitch: the test to find out whether a person even has Lyme disease is often inaccurate. As the National Capital Lyme Disease Association points out, giving a vaccine to somebody who doesn’t know they are infected could be dangerous.

“Over 60% of the time, especially early in infection when your doctor calls and tells you ‘you don’t have Lyme Disease,’ in fact, you do. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine is so far behind the 8-ball on this,” said attorney Susan Green.

Green, infected with Lyme Disease herself, pushed state lawmakers to tell Lyme testing labs they have to alert patients about how often their tests give false negatives.

“In Maryland, they require the laboratories to deliver a piece of paper at point of service advising the patient the test is inaccurate and that if your symptoms persist, return to your doctor.”

Jackson hopes his Lyme Disease won’t be a life sentence, “I try antibiotics. I try herbal supplements. I try many different things. They all just do a little bit for me. I’m trying to get better so I can have the ability to go to college.”

The National Capital Lyme Disease Association spreads around ID cards to spot different tick types.

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