Amy Ricciuti knew Lyme disease was prevalent in her community, so she wasn’t surprised when more than 20 people showed up at her first support group meeting.
Ricciuti, 46, of Brookeville was diagnosed with Lyme disease in September, but thinks she might have been suffering from it for the past 20 years. Her 16-year-old daughter, Christina, also has been diagnosed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. The disease can lead to paralysis and speech problems if it progresses.
Although she is feeling better now, Ricciuti said she spent most of last summer unable to get out of bed. She has seen 17 doctors and last year spent more than $21,000 to find out what was causing her fatigue, chronic headaches and vertigo.
“I just felt like something had invaded my body, and I wasn’t me anymore,” she said. “It has completely ruined my life — it’s been hard on me, my kids and my husband.”
Ricciuti started the support group for people who might feel isolated to share experiences and information.
Barry Rosenfeld, 57, of Olney shared a similar story. As a real estate agent in 1989, he spent a lot of time with engineers in the woods of Brookeville. While driving home, he recalls pulling ticks off his neck and throwing them out the car window.
He’s dealt with fatigue, tingling in his hands and swollen joints. Although he is feeling better now, he said, Lyme disease is a “life sentence.”
“I’m on disability because I can’t hold down a full-time job, it contributed to my divorce, and affected my relationship with my children,” Rosenfeld said.
Treatment for the disease varies, and options include long-term antibiotics, supplements, diets and holistic remedies.
Cindy Edwards, nurse administrator for the county’s office of disease control, said Lyme disease is endemic.
“It’s everywhere in Montgomery County and almost everywhere in the state,” she said.
However, the county’s numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of the number of cases of Lyme disease. In 2011, she said, there were 287 cases confirmed in Montgomery County, with 15 of those in Olney and seven from Brookeville.
Physicians are required to report cases of Lyme disease, but many don’t. Another problem is that the county’s definition of Lyme disease, set by the CDC, is specific. For example, a doctor could treat based on symptoms and patient history, but that wouldn’t necessarily meet the criteria to be documented as confirmed case.
“Do I think there are only 27 cases in Olney and Brookeville?” Edwards said. “No. These numbers don’t have anything to do with the number of people treated for Lyme disease.”
The CDC website shows Maryland has the eighth-highest number of confirmed cased in 2010, with 1,163.
According to the CDC, the rising incidence of Lyme disease results from to a number of factors including increased tick abundance, overabundant deer population, increased recognition of the disease and the establishment of more residences in wooded areas.
Veterinarian Wendy Walker of Olney said among her patients, the numbers are far greater.
“Almost every dog that comes in here is screened, and 50 to 70 percent of them test positive,” she said. “The vet world is 10 years ahead — the test is 99 percent accurate and there is a central database that tracks it.”
The website www.dogsandticks.com shows 4,336 cases of Lyme disease in dogs have been reported in the county from 2007 to the present. In comparison, Frederick County shows 1,686 cases and Prince George’s County reports 668 cases.