Eau Claire Health Dept. researching ways to lower Lyme disease numbers

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Studies show Eau Claire County has the highest reported cases of Lyme disease in the state, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and researchers are looking for ways to lower them.

Andrea Gustafson of Chippewa Falls said she loves being outdoors, but became of victim of its hidden dangers.

“I didn't have any rash, and had no idea what was going on when the symptoms hit,” Gustafson said. “An arthritic attack hit my wrists, and I’m like 'what is going on?' from that point, it became more systemic with nerve pain, night sweats, pressure around my sternum, tingling and panic attacks hit that I had never had before.”

She said she went to a doctor after friends said it might be Lyme disease. She tested negative, but got a second opinion. That's when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease.

She started taking several antibiotics, but three years later, still has symptoms.

“It has been honestly a rollercoaster with feeling better and it would plateau and hit where it was really hard again, and lots of ups and downs, but with the trend of feeling better and better, just very very slowly.”

“It's the second most reportable illness in Eau Claire County, whereas others it wouldn't even be on their map. So it's a big deal specifically for us,” Eau Claire Environmental Health Director Shane Sanderson said.

The Eau Claire City County Health Department is working to decrease the number of cases.

“Instead of necessarily studying the disease rates, we want to study the ticks themselves. Get a feel for where exposures are happening, populations rising or falling,” Sanderson said.

The health department is fighting the problem by dragging cloth along the grass in Big Falls and Lowe’s creek, gathering ticks, and using a machine to detect Lyme disease carrying bacteria.

“Getting that info to control exposure is going to be more effective than hoping you're properly diagnosed and you get treated,” Sanderson said.

He said prevention is key, reminding everyone to check for ticks after spending time outdoors.

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