Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County - More cases of Lyme disease is reported than any other vector-borne disease in the United States. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control. This year experts say the number of new cases will rise to higher than normal. Early warm weather has made grass and foliage grow creating a perfect habitat for ticks, the insect that carries the disease. But many people who suffer from this common disease say there's more to it that meets the eye, and it could become a bigger problem for years to come.
Jonathan Greenip of Tunkhannock has Lyme disease. He was diagnosed last summer at the age of 13.
He had to put a stop to the activities he loved, like acting. "I couldn't get up out of my bed. I couldn't walk my legs were always shaking. I had terrible headaches, I was very sensitive to light and sound and my stomach always hurt."
His mother, Kim never expected to see her son so sick. "He's crying saying I just want to be normal. I just want to be with my friends. And he just couldn't," she said of her son's illness.
It's a common story across Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania. Ticks thrive in the woodlands and grassy areas here. When a person gets bit by a deer tick carrying Lyme Disease, and the infection is passed on a bulls eye rash usually appears. Jonathan didn't see that mark, also common, but it can lead to confusion. "They took a lot of blood from me to test for several things. That's what they found Lyme Disease," he said.
Dr. Gary Decker, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Wyoming Valley Health Care System Some said testing for the disease is not very accurate and can be misleading. "If you have not removed a tick not red, rash and it's February instead of June or July and you have complaints of headache, joint soreness... and you are tested for Lyme disease and the test comes up positive, it's unlikely the test represents a true positive and more likely a false positive."
Treatment is also scrutinized. Jonathan has been on antibiotics for nearly six months.
"There's no clear-cut scientific upside to long-term ati-biotic use for Lyme disease. That said there are physicians who believe it helps," said Dr. Decker.
Lyme disease has three stages- but Dr. Decker says most people are healthy again before the disease becomes serious. Still, people claim to suffer from a chronic form of the disease - something major medical research groups have not yet acknowledged. But Decker says that could change.
"I think there's a lot to learn about Lyme disease. There's research actively done consistently. It wouldn't surprise me 10-15 years, 5 years down the road there is some supporting evidence that maybe there is a chronic variant of the disease that's out there," he said.
Dr. Decker and the passionate people who carry a Lyme disease diagnosis hope that research leads to a more accurate test to treat the illness effectively.
Jonathan is feeling better now, able to start acting again. But his bout with Lyme disease has him cautious about going outside- he turned down a summer camp counselor job.
"It just scares me. The thought of going through that again, it's not a fun thought," said Greenip.
To read what the Centers for Disease Control says about Lyme disease visit www.cdc.gov/Lyme/
There are many local groups started to bring awareness and support to Lyme disease and people affected: