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Lyme Disease Risk For Florida Hunters

"I love my turkey hunting. I sure miss my turkey hunting," Blair Huggins said, shaking his head.

Huggins knew all too well that he wouldn't be joining his friends in the woods this season. He hasn't been able to go hunting for almost two years, and for Huggins hunting is a way of life.

He has a nerve disorder that causes severe burning sensations throughout his. Anything other than lightweight clothing causes pain comparable to horrible sunburn.

The 41-year-old Huggins is a victim of Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that is transmitted primarily through the bite of ticks, usually the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick.

Because of their exposure to woodlands, hunters are especially vulnerable to ticks, which pick up the disease from mice, deer and even some birds. The bacterial infection then is transmitted to humans by the bite of a bacteria-carrying tick.

Huggins never will forget the morning in February 2000 when he discovered hundreds of pinhead-size ticks covering his body after returning from a spring turkey-scouting tripÉ near Titusville.

"I picked them off with tweezers, and didn't think much about it because I'd gotten into ticks before," Huggins said. "It's just part of hunting in Florida."

Within weeks he had a sore throat, headaches, fever, and aching muscles.

"I just assumed I'd gotten the flu."

Huggins never developed the "bull's-eye" rash around a bite area, which develops in some victims.

Huggins was raised a hunter, in a family vested in hunting. But for the next two years, Huggins' arthritis grew worse in his arm and also a foot, probably a result of the Lyme disease bacteria that he still didn't realize was in his body. Lyme disease is called "the Great Imposter" because it can have such a broad range of symptoms, which can be misdiagnosed, or else victims with less serious reactions simply don't seek treatment.

Huggins' arthritis got so bad that a doctor decided to treat him with steroids. But the steroids affected his immune system, allowing the peripheral neuropathy to develop.

"For many, neuropathy is a numbness or a tingling, but mine was more severe." Huggins said. "In a matter of weeks it spread to my legs and all over my body. My whole body felt like intense sunburn. Anything that touched me burned. I was constantly getting up, I couldn't sit, and I couldn't lay down."

"I was ignorant. I didn't think Lyme disease was in Florida," he said.

Five weeks later, a neurologist prescribed an anti-depressant he said would help the nerve pain, and the doctor told Huggins he was suffering from a tick-borne virus that should get better.

But, Huggins had his doubts, and he started his own research of Lyme disease on the Internet.

"On Friday I had the doctor's appointment, and by Sunday I knew I had Lyme disease," he said emphatically. "All the symptoms I'd had were there. But most doctors don't believe there's Lyme disease in Florida."

A year ago this month, Huggins got the results of four special tests, and all came back positive.

"Mine were a lot positive," Huggins said, able to smile.

The tests also revealed that Huggins had a second tick disease known as babesiosis.

"Other tick diseases go hand-in-hand with Lyme," he said.

Presently, a Tampa doctor with a specialty in Lyme disease is treating Huggins, and there's been some progress.

These brief sample excerpts from: FLORIDA TODAY

For the full story go to: www.canlyme.com/floridasteroid.html

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