News 12 at 11 o'clock/ Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW) -- It's a medical mystery that kept one family guessing for almost a decade.
A North Augusta man is battling Lyme disease, but for the first 9 years no one knew what it was because it's not common in the south.
But this family says their story is a lesson that just because it's not common doesn't mean it's not here and all it takes is one bite.
"It's just been exhausting on every level," said Joy Murdock. "Emotionally, mentally, physically it's been a very hard journey."
11 years ago her husband John was bitten by a tick creating a bulls eye rash.
"We never saw the tick and we just saw the place on his leg and it just got worse and worse," explained Joy.
Not familiar with the rash, they thought he'd been bitten by a brown recluse. John says, "I went to the doctor and he thought it was a spider bite and he treated it with antibiotics."
But John just got sicker. "About 4 to 5 times a year this leg would get very red, very feverish and it could swell up," said John.
Last year it got really bad sending him to the hospital twice.
"He couldn't work, couldn't think, couldn't remember stuff," recalled Joy.
When the doctors couldn't figure out what it was Joy started her own research.
"That's probably the most frustrating thing about Lyme is that people don't believe you. They think it can't happen," she said.
Lyme disease isn't common in the south.
"It's generally seen in the northeast, there's some in the Midwest, some on the west cost, very little really in the southeast," explained Dr. Jose Vazquez. He is the Chief of Infectious Diseases at GRU.
"It's difficult to confirm a case of Lyme disease, you really have to go to someone who knows what they're doing its a special test," he said.
He says if the person or doctor knows what they are looking for the symptoms, like the bulls eye rash and flu like symptoms can be easy to spot, even if the tick isn't.
"Most of the time when we have an adult tick on it we can see it. the nymph tick is about 25 percent smaller. We don't see it," explained Vazquez.
Many times the nymph ticks are the ones that can spread Lyme disease. But he says down south, Lyme may not be as well known, and that could cause it to go untreated.
"Not all doctors, especially here because there's not that many, may not be familiar with Lyme Disease so I think its important you go to someone and say what you think," he said.
And if it goes untreated, it can affect every part of your body.
"The bones, the joints, the heart, the brain are really the big ones that are being destroyed," said Vazquez.
And that is exactly what has happened to John.
After talking to her cousin who had Lyme disease Joy decided to take John to a doctor who specializes in Lyme. That doctor quickly confirmed what it was and began treatment
"I would say within probably three months he was out of the wheelchair," said Joy.
He continues to get better everyday. He still has a long way to go, but Joy says John's story is a lesson to others that it can happen here.
"If you have a tick bite you need to be very vigilant. Get the tick tested if you can. Get it off of you immediately," said Joy.
She says she also learned the importance of always fighting for what you believe.
"If you have a gut instinct that something's wrong and people aren't willing to listen just keep going, keep digging because I truly believe that's what saved John's life."
Joy says her husband was bitten in North Augusta. We reached out to state health departments, but they don't do surveillance on ticks here just on the disease so we don't know how many ticks around the area carry it.
Dr. Vazquez says if you are bitten by a tick, be aware. He says it takes 36 to 48 hours before the infection will begin so just get it off as quickly as possible and if you see a bulls eye rash or get flu like symptoms go to a doctor.