From The Redlands Daily News
Tick took away her high school time
By CATHERINE GARCIA
Tiffany Smith was an average teenager, singing, practicing the piano and playing tennis
at Arrowhead Christian Academy, when a bite from a tick five years ago changed her life.
Today, she is one of thousands afflicted with Lyme disease, a debilitating disorder with many symptoms.
The disease forced Tiffany to miss almost all four years of high school. She also had to endure countless
MRIs, spinal taps, and blood tests before her ailment was finally diagnosed over a year after she was
Like Tiffany a few years ago, countless people are suffering from unknown maladies, which with a little
more information could correctly be diagnosed as Lyme Disease. This is what California Lyme Disease
Association members are hoping to combat.
May 4 through 10 marks the first Lyme Disease Awareness Week, which the association was instrumental
in organizing. While Lyme disease-carrying ticks have been reported in all but two counties in California
(Alpine and Modoc), many doctors are unfamiliar with the disease. “Lyme awareness, education,
and prevention is a critical public health issue,” according to the association.
Lyme disease occurs world-wide and is a “hidden epidemic in California,” according to association
President Phyllis Mervine. Next to AIDS, it is the fastest-growing disease in the United States.
Farmers, ranchers, foresters and others who work outdoors, in addition to those who are outdoors
recreationally, are at high risk for acquiring Lyme disease. Birds, mice, and other animals found in cities
can carry ticks, leaving urban areas at risk as well.
Lyme disease was first recognized in Lyme, Conn., in 1975. It has since become the most frequently
reported vector-borne disease in the United States. During 2002, 23,763 cases were recorded by the
Centers for Disease Control. Twenty-five percent of Lyme patients reported nationwide are children
Lyme disease is called “the great imitator” because it takes on the symptoms of several other diseases.
Common symptoms include fever, fatigue, arthritis, arrhythmia, cognitive dysfunction, headache, swollen
glands and aching muscles.
Tiffany had more than 30 symptoms of the disease, according to her mother, Carol Smith, the San
Bernardino County contact person for the association.
“She was having horrible headaches and couldn’t focus on anything,” Carol said. “Her joints began to
ache and she couldn’t hold up her tennis racket. She tried to go to school but it was too hard.”
Also, Lyme disease can be complicated by additional infections. Ticks in California may also carry
ehrlichia, a disease that infects horses; babesia, a malaria-like parasite that infects red blood cells;
and tularemia, or rabbit fever, which is a potential bioterrorism agent.
The painless bite of a poppy-seed-sized nymphal tick is the most common cause of human cases.
Half of those suffering from Lyme disease do not recall a bite. “Nymphs hatch out in late spring,”
Mervine explained. “They are common in leaf litter under deciduous trees, especially under oaks or
where mice are numerous. Sitting on downed logs is especially risky, since nymphal ticks climb up
This is exactly how Tiffany was infected. At the age of 14, while attending a church camp, Tiffany sat
on a log, and was treated for what the nurse believed was a splinter. Her symptoms appeared a few
months later. She wasn’t correctly diagnosed with Lyme disease until she was 15 1/2.
Prevention is key to avoiding Lyme disease. First, avoid tick-infested areas. Wear white clothes, so
the tiny, dark ticks can be visible. Also, wear long sleeves, socks and a hat, and tuck shirts into pants,
and pants into boots. Wash clothing thoroughly after being exposed to ticks, and apply DEET repellent,
such as Skintastic or Off, to skin not covered by clothing.
In the event of a tick bite, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with tweezers or a special
tick-removing tool, and pull it straight out. Avoid getting fluids from the tick on bare skin. Disinfect the
bite site, and if possible, save the tick for testing. Watch the area for several weeks in the event of a rash
developing, and contact your physician.
Today, thanks to treatment, Tiffany is feeling much better than when she was still undiagnosed.
“I couldn’t have survived without the support of my family, my friends and my church,” she said. “It was
hard at the beginning, because everything was going downhill and nothing checked out. We hit a lot
of dead ends. It was like living in a nightmare.”
She plans on getting her GED within the next year, and is leaning toward attending Abilene Christian
University in Texas, where she will major in music. She is now taking private voice lessons and wants
to someday write film scores or Christian songs.
Both Tiffany and Carol hope that Lyme Disease Awareness Week spreads the word about a
misunderstood disease to an uninformed population.
“We don’t want anyone else to go through this,” said Carol. “We really want to spread the word.”
Information: CALDA at www.LymeDisease.org , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at
or e-mail Carol Smith at email@example.com