Mum bitten by tick on picnic left with ‘horrific’ lifelong disease
A mum-of-two has issued a warning after contracting an illness which has “taken over her life” when she was bitten by a tick on a family picnic.
Olivera Marshall contracted Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick on a family picnic in 2020 and is now speaking out about the devastating symptoms.
She said: “It’s very very painful. I felt like I was being stabbed by thousands of knives all over my body. It was the most horrific thing, honestly so painful. Every bone in my body was hurting, it was just horrible.
“I had a stiff neck, and I’m left now with fatigue. Constant, constant fatigue. Exhaustion, confusion, muscle and joint pain. I live with that as we speak. The month of April was pretty bad, I think I left my house about four times. I can’t get better.”
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which can spread to humans via infected ticks. About 10 per cent of ticks are infected and there are around 2,000-3,000 new cases in England and Wales each year, according to Public Health England.
Olivera’s ordeal unfolded when she and her husband Richard took their children Helena and Lukas to the Kingswear Marina for a picnic in June 2020, reports Devon Live. The family were in good spirits, happy to be out of the house during Covid and all were fit and healthy, including Olivera.
Enjoying the summer sun, Olivera lay down beside the nearby river and asked her husband to take a photo of her. It was this simple moment which would change her life forever.
She said: “Two weeks later I was lying down on my right side and I noticed a rash developing. That was where the tick had bitten me. It was literally for like 10 seconds I was lying on the ground and it bit me. Ticks normally go in tall grass in wooded areas. Where we were was like that – grass with woods.”
Two weeks after her picnic, Olivera noticed a red patch on her right side and said she had flu-like symptoms. She called her GP and sent in a photo of the red area on her body. The GP then called her back saying that it was likely she had Lyme disease.
The rash grew quickly over the next 24 hours and formed a shape reminiscent of a bullseye – a telltale sign of a Lyme disease infection – though a third of those infected do not get this rash.
She spoke about how she felt: “It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I thought I was going to die. I was on antibiotics for a month. That didn’t work.
“I lost feeling in my legs – I wasn’t able to walk. I was wheeled into the ER and placed in a hospital and I had to stay there on an IV drip but because of Covid at the time they couldn’t keep me any longer so I stay there for three days which obviously was not enough because now I have post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
“There’s no cure, which means I’m going to live with this forever.”
Lyme disease also affects people mentally as well. Olivera often experiences confusion and when she was first infected she was delirious, barely being able to speak. Before her diagnosis, she was studying accountancy but because of these symptoms, she has found it incredibly difficult to keep at it, missing the last 6 weeks of lessons.
Olivera is unable to work because of the illness but she said she is very lucky to have her husband who looks after her and supports her financially.
She spoke about how her family help her and the stoic brave face she keeps on for them. She said: “They’re really really understanding and supportive. I’m kind of trying not to affect my family as much as possible really. I don’t really want to complain or whine about it but they can see that I’m unwell.
“They can see me when I’m really fatigued because I struggle to talk. If I have a couple hours and I feel well enough I will go out but I do have to rest. I have to nap every day.”
Generally, symptoms can include a fever, arthritis-like pain, headache, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen glands as well as the bullseye rash. Some people, especially children, also develop Bell’s palsy (facial drooping) or tingling, numbness and severe headaches. If the disease is caught early it can be treated with antibiotics but in some cases, like Olivera’s symptoms, tiredness and pain can last for years. There is currently no agreed treatment for these cases.
Despite all this, Olivera is determined to make sure this does not happen to anyone else. May is Lyme disease awareness month so Olivera has taken the opportunity to talk about her experience and what it’s like living with the condition.
She said: “If I could save just one person I would feel happy. Because this is no way to live. I don’t have a life at all.”
She added: “I don’t want to feel sorry for myself but I would love to send this message out to others and say please protect yourself from ticks. This is vital. Preventing being bitten by a tick in the first place is a crucial part.”
Government advice to prevent tick bites is to stick to the centre of any woodland paths when on walks and avoid long grass and overhanging vegetation. Wear pale clothes to spot the unattached ticks easier and tuck trousers into socks, wellies are also a good defence. You should also carry a tick removal tool with you and tick repellent at all times just in case. April and October are when ticks are most active so be extra vigilant during these months.
If a tick does bite you it is extremely important that you do not simply brush it off or flick it away as its head can come off and stay inside you. If this happens and the tick is infected with Lyme disease, you will become infected too. Instead, carefully remove it with a tick removal tool.
Olivera says if you are bitten it is a good idea to keep the tick in a plastic bag once you remove it with the tool. Once you’re home freeze this tick and call your GP and ask to be tested for Lyme disease. Olivera says that Lyme disease testing in the UK is not very good so you can send the frozen tick off for testing to confirm whether it was infected as testing on humans is more difficult.
Doctors also need to stick to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines for diagnosing Lyme disease so you should refer them to this if you suspect you are at risk of Lyme disease.
Olivera said: “GPs don’t always understand Lyme disease. They don’t come across it often either, we need to remember that. If you don’t have a rash or other symptoms you might be misdiagnosed.
“I’ve heard of people being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, MS, ME, Alzheimer’s, dementia you name it. Lyme disease mimics many many different diseases.”
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