WHITEFISH - May marks National Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
It couldn't come at a better time because as the weather gets nicer, the more you'll want to head outdoors. But that also means exposure to ticks, which can cause Lyme Disease.
One thing to know is that Montana still ranks low for states with Lyme Disease cases as it's more prevalent on the East Coast, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But that doesn't mean we don't want you to be prepared.
Not only are we giving you tips on how to stay safe, but we're also sharing the story of a Whitefish woman who's battling the disease.
Ticks are at the forefront of people's minds in the spring as they venture into the woods.
“The thing with ticks is that they're in your backyard. They're everywhere. If you have grass over two or three inches, you have ticks in your yard. If a deer can walk through your yard, you have ticks in your yard.” noted Tiana Wood who has Lyme Disease.
With ticks comes the possibility of contracting Lyme Disease.
“The sad part about Lyme disease is you can be reinfected. There are thousands of strains. So this is not something where you get bit and you're good for life,” said Wood.
Wood was infected by a tick when she was just 9 years old. While she was sick and had various symptoms it took 21 years for a doctor to finally diagnose her with Lyme Disease.
“I obviously was relieved but I was also really angry. Because it was a lot of time that I could have known and I didn't. Up until recently, the number one phrase that I would hear is you know, you're so young. You look so healthy. You look fine. And I wasn't fine,” said Wood told MTN News.
If caught early enough, Lyme Disease can be cured, but if not, it can have debilitating health effects.
“The crushing fatigue bone pain, the joint pain, muscle pain, I'm nauseated all the time. I'm sleeping like 18 hours a day. And so it's there's not really an area that it doesn't touch. Head to toe,” said Wood.
Overcome by her symptoms, Wood quit her successful job and moved home to Whitefish to live with her mother.
“I don't even know if there's like words to describe how you go and you realize you're 30-31 years old and everything you've ever worked for is gone. Your independence is gone,” said Wood.
Lyme Disease treatment is not covered by insurance because it can be treated with 30 days of antibiotics if caught early enough, so, it is not recognized as a legitimate illness.
“I feel like I'm drowning, because there are possibilities for treatments there are possibilities to get better. It does take a lot of money, a lot of trial and error and I don't have that right now,” said Wood.
Wood's mother Terry does everything she possibly can to fund her treatments and take care of her.
“The struggle for me is getting her the care that she needs with the enormous amount of money that's needed to do that. And I've already taken out loans and I'll take out more loans I'll do what I have to do and like that's just, that's what I do."
While Wood doesn't have much hope for remission, she has a support team to keep her strong.
“I have enough hope to keep going. I'm fortunate to have a small tribe of people in my life that hope for me. Lyme patients are 75% more likely to commit suicide because of how it attacks the brain,” said Wood.
“I don't spend a lot of time on tomorrow because tomorrow will come or it won't. But today's what's important and today she's she's with me,” said Terry.
Tiana Wood is raising funds to go to an infectious disease doctor in Washington DC and has a GoFundMe account set up at https://www.gofundme.com/f/Tianafightslyme if you would like to help.
There is currently no vaccine available for Lyme Disease in humans but that may soon change. CBS reports that last month, Moderna announced it's working on two Lyme Disease vaccines. Pfizer also plans to submit an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the next two years for its Lyme Disease vaccine, which is in late-stage trials.
Scientists are also working on better ways to test people for Lyme Disease.
Below are some tips on how to prevent tick bites:
- Treat clothing and gear with products containing point-5% permethrin (which is an insecticide)
- Use bug repellent containing deet or a natural alternative that states it repels ticks
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass — walk in the center of trails
- Examine clothing, gear and pets for ticks when you get home
- Shower immediately after returning indoors.
- Perform a thorough tick check
Additional information can be found on the CDC's website.