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Despite data, Lyme disease sufferers say illness has reached Utah


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SALT LAKE CITY — More Utahns with Lyme disease are banding together, looking for answers about an illness that stirs growing controversy across the country.

They have been diagnosed with the tick-bourne illness, but the Utah Department of Health doesn't have the data to prove their cases were contracted here.

Mark Ossola suffers from Lyme disease and feels extreme pain randomly.

"It hurts like I've been hit," he said Tuesday. "I get up and do sports. I have a lot of energy, but Lyme disease jut took all of that away."

What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an illness caused by a bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. These bacteria are spread to humans from the bite of an infected tick. Lyme disease may affect the skin, nervous system, heart, and joints.

Usually, the bacteria which causes Lyme disease will only be transferred from an infected tick if it is attached to your skin for at least 24 hours. Persons who do not remove the tick immediately have a higher chance of getting Lyme disease.

There is no evidence of natural person-to-person transmission. However, it has been reported that pregnant women have transferred the bacteria to their fetus. No negative effects on the fetus have been found when the mother receives appropriate antibiotic treatment.

(Source: Utah Department of Health)

Mark's family and their doctor are quite certain the disease came from a tick bite in March 2010 at Scout camp in Utah, and they didn't get that diagnosis until nine weeks after the tick bite. By that time, they'd even forgotten about the bite.

As Mark's symptoms continued, his mother found the support group Utah Lyme Disease Alliance and took a lead role. "They were all very sick, and the activist side of me decided that I needed to help, and help bring this to light," Susan Ossola said.

Despite that diagnosis, the Utah Department of Health has never been able to confirm a case of Lyme disease contracted in state. Epidemiologist JoDee Baker says there are a lot of false positives with Lyme disease testing.

"Lyme disease testing is very tricky. It's very complicated," Baker said.

Deer ticks haven't been in Utah before, so the Department of Health and others are now testing to find out whether the tick has arrived, which would indicate we have Lyme disease.

"A lot of people are starting to come down with similar symptoms all over the country," Baker said. "So a lot of people are trying to figure out whether or not Lyme disease is endemic in states that it hasn't been (before)."

Until then, the science does not support its existence here.

"It's entirely possible we do have ticks in Utah that carry Lyme disease, and we want to find them and help people who do have these symptoms get better, and feel better, and get the appropriate treatment," Baker said.

That would be a relief to Mark and other sufferers.

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Jed Boal

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