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Laurel man recalls long battle with tick-borne disease

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Posted at 7:01 PM, Apr 25, 2023

LAUREL - Spring is here and with warm weather returning, many are heading outside to enjoy it.

it is also that time of year when ticks begin to come out again. Len Orth knows the dangers they can bring all too well.

“It was five, six years of hell.”

That’s how Orth describes his long battle with Lyme Disease. Not long after a 2016 hunting trip, he noticed one of the telltale signs—a bullseye-shaped rash.

“A bullseye. They are kind of heavy red on the outside and another red circle in the middle,” he said in a recent interview with MTN News.

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But he didn’t give much thought about it at the time.

“I had forgotten about the rashes, I didn’t really think of Lyme,” he says.

Orth began to have problems with his memory, excruciating headaches, and other strange symptoms that doctors could not explain. They even began to suspect that he may have early-onset dementia.

“I would sit with my eyes closed or I would be in bed sleeping almost all day long. I rarely opened my eyes. I was a wreck-- it was awful,” he recalls.

Later he learned Lyme Disease was likely the culprit.

“There’s about five years of my life that I have a handful of memories from, so it wasn’t nearly as hard on me as it was on my wife,” he said.

The ticks that cause Lyme are not native to Montana, so it’s understandable that doctors didn’t suspect it—but it is not unheard of here.

“With the increase in temperature in regional states we are seeing a migration of ticks that we have never seen before in the state so it is important to be careful when you are out and about checking your body for ticks because we are seeing an uptick in Lyme Disease with the increase in climate temperature,” says Dr. Shae Saunders, a physician with RiverStone Health.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services says Lyme is the most common tickborne illness in Montana with an average of 13 cases each year, but that all the cases are acquired from out of state.

Orth is adamant that he got it while hunting in Montana.

The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses include fever and chills, aches and pains, and distinctive rashes.

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Dr. Saunders says if you are in any kind of brushy areas, even in town, it’s important to check for ticks.

“They like to hide in belly buttons. They like to hide behind ears on your dog and in the little leg crevices. Make sure and check there and even on their eyelids.

Saunders suggests letting your doctor know if you have been bitten— especially if you notice a rash. She says both Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be treated successfully with anti-biotics if found early.

She also says the best way to prevent a tick bite is prevention by using an EPA-approved spray. Gear and clothing can also be treated with a product that helps keep ticks away.