DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A small tick bite can do a lot of damage, especially if it’s carrying bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
It’s a common misconception that Lyme disease is a northeast phenomenon, but the number of Lyme disease cases in Texas is rising.
“The black legged tick (is) the one we see in Texas all the time,” North Texas Poison Center’s Cristina Tomas told CBS11. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to debilitating health conditions.
That’s exactly what happened to Claire Maxwell. The Dallas teen had no idea she was infected, until she could not do all the things she loved.
She went from placing in triathlons to missing months of school because she felt tired and sick all the time.
“I would always be nauseous and I would be throwing up,” she said. “I was getting more and more tired.”
The Maxwells saw more than a dozen doctors, but they had no answers for the symptoms impacting Claire and her older sister, Katherine.
Their mother, Sarah Maxwell, an associate professor at University of Texas at Dallas, didn’t give up. “I kept saying something is wrong. Something is wrong. This is not normal,” she said.
After three years, her daughters were diagnosed with Lyme disease. For Claire, the younger of the two, it has been particularly hard.
“I took her to the cardiologist and said I am ready to have her hospitalized,” Sarah Maxwell said. ”That’s how bad things were.”
Maxwells believe that the girls were bitten by infected ticks brought in the home by family dogs.
“I grew up in the north east, I didn’t know there was Lyme disease in Texas,” Sarah said.
In fact, 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are documented in the U.S. annually, but studies suggest the real number is somewhere closer to 300,000.
Together Dr. Maxwell and her daughter Claire have launched a Texans for Ticks Facebook page.
“I am getting the word out so kids like me won’t have to go through it,” Claire said.
They are working to improve Lyme disease awareness in Texas so the medical community and parents can recognize warning signs.
In some cases, a distinctive expanding bullseye rash develops after a bite. Early on, you may develop flu-like symptoms
“Many of the symptoms are very similar to other illnesses–so it can be tricky,” Poison Center’s Thomas said.
The good news is Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics if diagnosed early. The Maxwells know firsthand the cost of delayed diagnosis and that’s why this project is very personal to them. ”No child should lose their childhood over a tick bite– just doesn’t make sense,” she added.
So what can you do?
When spending time outdoors, the CDC recommends treating all clothing and camping gear with permethrin. It’s a drug used in treating lice. You can also use insect repellent.
Carefully check your body and clothing for ticks.
Pet owners should conduct routine checks on pets. If you spot one, use fine-tipped tweezers to remove ticks.