2009-08-12 / Top News

Woman contracts Lyme disease on Sanibel

E.I. ROTTERSMAN news@floridaweekly.com

One local woman is crusading to let people know there is Lyme disease in Southwest Florida, despite the fact the Lee County Health Department is not overly concerned.

Marcia Kimball, a Sanibel resident and business owner, was diagnosed with Lyme disease on May 27.

After contacting the health department for help and to warn others of the problem, she said she was not paid any serious attention.

The Lee County Health Department contends that Lyme disease is not a big issue in Southwest Florida.

"We really don't see a lot of it here at all," said Dr. Bob South, an epidemiologist with the Lee County Health Department. "It's not really an issue here."

In 2008, there were four cases of Lyme disease in Lee County, according to Dr. South. In 2006 and 2007, there were three cases each. Dr. South said when a case comes up the county agency does a "basic investigation."

He said most of the cases are imported from the north — meaning people come down to Southwest Florida with the illness already and get diagnosed here.

Though Dr. South said ticks are here and could potentially carry anything, the agency is not worried.

"It lives here, it's natural," he said. "The primary thing you do is avoid them. There does not appear to be a particular problem in Southwest Florida."

But it is a problem for Ms. Kimball and her housekeeper who both contracted the disease.

First came the waves of tiredness. Then came aches, swollen glands and a cold sore.

For Ms. Kimball, a vibrant, healthy Sanibel resident and store owner, these symptoms didn't make sense and alarmed her.

"I know my body well enough to know something's wrong," Ms. Kimball said.

Two words would soon change the course of the Lee County woman's life: Lyme disease.

The disease is named for the village of Lyme, Conn., where a number of cases were identified in 1975. The disease, which comes from the bite of an infected tick, is often defined by fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash — a bull's-eye — called erythema migrans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.

This past spring Ms. Kimball bought some adjoining property near her Sanibel home that she shares with her husband and three dogs. Shortly after buying the parcel of land, she and her housekeeper and dogs took a walk around the property. Sometime while walking around, Ms. Kimball, her dogs and housekeeper came into contacts with ticks. Back in her home Ms. Kimball found herself plucking ticks off of herself and the dogs.

In mid-May, Ms. Kimball and her Yorkshire terrier Marley began feeling sick.

"Marley started walking weird," Ms. Kimball said.

Then the tiny terrier, normally healthy and feisty, began to exhibit seizure symptoms. Ms. Kimball took Marley to the Coral Veterinary Clinic where he tested positive for Lyme disease. The dog immediate began a treatment of doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Fever — another tick-borne disease.

Soon after Marley's diagnosis, Ms. Kimball started feeling fatigued and sick. Despite feeling ill, she decided to not cancel a planned trip to New Hampshire. By the time she arrived back home on May 25, Ms. Kimball could barely stay awake and suffered stomach pains. It was a drastic change for the normally energetic woman who runs Giggles, a successful children's clothing store on Sanibel and who, a year ago, jetted about the nation on a whirlwind campaign for former presidential hopeful Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Frustrated and sick of being sick, Ms. Kimball went to her doctor. On May 27, she tested positive for Lyme disease.

She said she was put on a four-week course of doxycycline — the same antibiotic as Marley. But after the four-week period, Ms. Kimball was not feeling better. Now her joints hurt. She decided to go seek medical help in New Hampshire where she received advice from a specialist.

During the period Ms. Kimball was getting treated her housekeeper too became ill and also tested positive for Lyme disease.

After she, her housekeeper and dog tested positive for Lyme disease, Ms. Kimball decided to contact the Lee County Health Department so that officials could warn the public.

But she said she didn't get very far with the agency. She said she was told that officials don't test bugs for Lyme disease here. She said she was told to spray — which she did — and that was the end of Lee County's role.

But that was not good enough for Ms. Kimball who worries how she is going to make it through the day with her weakened body. She is still getting treatments and seeing specialists.

She said she is lucky that she tested positive soon after getting sick. Folks who don't get treated right away run the risk of greater damage as the bacteria lingers.

According to the CDC Web site, if the disease is left untreated, the infection may spread to other parts of the body within a few days to weeks, producing a variety of symptoms, including the loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face (Bell's palsy), severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis, shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat, and pain that moves from joint to joint.

"I am scared to death something else is not going to work," she said. "These little buggers (bacteria from the Lyme disease) burrow deep in your body."

She is particularly alarmed after researching and watching the awardwinning Lyme disease documentary "Under Our Skin." The film details the maze that patients must go through to get help for a disease that many physicians do not know how to treat.

But right now, Ms. Kimball just wants people to know that Lyme disease is here in Southwest Florida.

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