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Confronting Lyme Disease

A former patient becomes patient consultant.

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Marjorie Veiga of Reston made the journey from Lyme Disease patient to Lyme Disease patient consultant.

“People need to understand that Lyme Disease, if not treated early and aggressively, can result in a lifetime of multi-systemic dysfunction.”

Marjorie Veiga, Lyme Disease patient consultant

Marjorie Veiga became ill after her second daughter was born. She developed intense pain in her hip area and a hypersensitivity to pressure. Drawing sheets over herself hurt. She had symptoms of arthritis and was tired, weak and in pain. After suffering six weeks of these unfamiliar symptoms, Veiga sought out a diagnosis. She said she never before felt an intensity like that.

It took four years for doctors to conclusively diagnose her illness and two years beyond that to treat it. It was Lyme disease, contracted in 2000 by an infected tick, and it caused nerve damage that changed her life.

“Once I got well, I wanted to help other people get well,” said Veiga, now a Lyme disease patient consultant. “I help families manage the medical mayhem Lyme causes. Affected families deal with diverse issues and degrees of symptoms.”

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, there are three different tick species that commonly bite people in Virginia; the lone star tick, the blacklegged tick, and the American dog tick. The most common species to bite people in Virginia is the lone star tick.

All three tick species can transmit various diseases, but only one species, the blacklegged tick (also known as the “deer tick”), transmits Lyme disease. It is the only human biting tick in Virginia with black legs. The blacklegged nymph must be attached and feeding for at least 36 hours to transmit the Lyme disease agent.

IN PATIENTS, early signs and symptoms range from joint pain, nervous system abnormalities and the characteristic bull’s-eye rash. Patients may experience severe fatigue and flu-like symptoms.

The diverse symptoms contribute to Lyme’s moniker as the “masquerader, because it imitates so many other diseases,” said Lyme patient Sharon E. Rainey. “It attacks the weakest part of a person’s immune system. In my family alone, our symptoms were all different. It was hard to believe we all suffered from the same infection.”

In Virginia Administrative Code, Virginia’s regulations require that healthcare providers report Lyme disease cases to the local health department.

In 2012, the tentative number of reported Lyme disease cases is 149, as noted by Joshua Smith, environmental health specialist III with the Disease Carrying Insects Program in the Fairfax County Health Department. Veiga is careful to point out that this is a "reported" number and does not account for those whose test results didn't meet CDC criteria, doctors who don't report and patients who were told they didn't have Lyme but actually do. The current tests, Veiga said, are not 100 percent reliable. Not all lab results are equal in their accuracy. Some false negatives are complicit in misdiagnosis.

Veiga, of Reston, has been what she calls “well” for about a year now after approximately 11 years of illness and therapies. She switched from a telecommunications career to one focusing on Lyme disease consulting. Her own daughter was a Lyme patient but now plays soccer and is a fairly typical teen.

“People need to understand that Lyme disease, if not treated early and aggressively, can result in a lifetime of multi-systemic dysfunction,” Veiga said.

FOR INFORMATION on tick bites, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/FightTheBite. To contact patient consultant Marjorie MacArthur Veiga by e-mail, write her at mveiga@mylymeguide.com. She can be reached by phone at 703-615-6661. Veiga is the author of “My Lyme Guide” at www.mylymeguide.com.