GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The spring chill will slowly move out and with the summer warmth comes ticks. Ticks are common in Michigan, they can spread dangerous illnesses like Lyme disease.
Ticks live on low lying brush and tall grasses, areas near and around trails especially.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Dan Poppe says it’s safe to traverse these areas if you are prepared.
“When it warms up this spring, be aware that ticks are out there,” Poppe said. “Wear long pants, wear closed shoes, and if you feel anything check it out. And be sure to check for ticks and use repellant.”
In recent years, Allegan and Ottawa counties have ranked the highest in reported tick sightings. Adam London with the Kent County Health Department says it wasn’t always that way.
“These ticks came from Connecticut originally,” London said. “We have seen this migration of the type of ticks that spread Lyme Disease. It has continued to spread into the Midwest, in particular, Michigan and Wisconsin seem to kind of be ground zero for Lyme disease and the ticks that spread it right now.”
Clarissa Cnossen and her family are from West Michigan but were visiting family in Wisconsin three years ago when she was bitten by a tick.
“We have always been an outdoors family, we love hiking and that’s what we do together as a family,” Cnossen’s mother, Susan said. “I believe I even called our pediatricians and said my daughter has been bit by a tick, should I be concerned, or what do I look for?”
London says to look for a red, bullseye shaped rash to develop around the area of the bite.
“It’s important that if you see that bite that you call your doctor right away,” London said. “If you catch it early, there are antibiotics that can stop the development of getting Lyme disease.”
That rash never developed on Clarissa Cnossen.
“It’s pretty rare,” London said. “That a person would develop it without any symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.”
Aside from the rash, other symptoms may present themselves to those bitten by ticks like soreness in the joints, fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes.
Susan Cnossen noticed some of those symptoms, but was unsure at the time what they meant.
“Lyme can create a lot of symptoms in different ways that come and go. When I look back now, it’s like yes, she had this for a period of time but then it went away,” Susan Cnossen said. “Some people have more physical symptoms, other people have neurological.”
Those neurological symptoms began to worsen for Clarissa Cnossen, that’s when her mother knew definitively that something was wrong.
“She began at the beginning of second grade, switching around letters. Similar letters, different ones that had similar formations,” Susan Cnossen said. “When she was counting, she began skipping the number three, like it was nonexistent to her. There were some visual, spacial type things going on that weren’t making sense to us as parents and to her teachers and staff at the school.”
She called her pediatricians again, but was still left without a definitive answer.
“From a doctor’s standpoint, we just kept hearing anxiety,” Susan Cnossen said. “Yet, people who knew her the best kept telling us, this is not psychological, this is not anxiety. This has to be something else, keep looking.”
London says diagnosing Lyme Disease can be tricky, and in Clarissa Cnossen’s case it took years to manifest itself.
“Timeliness is critical to avoiding infection,” London said. “Once that infection sets in, Lyme Disease infection has been very difficult to deal with long term. There isn’t a treatment at this time that is 100 percent effective.”
The Susan Cnossens’ took Clarissa’s treatment as far medically as they could.
“I think that’s why sometimes it’s hard to get the proper diagnosis because it is so tricky and the treatment, there is no real guarantee,” Cnossen said. “It’s hard to diagnose and to treat so therefore it’s just kind of like a big mess.”
The lack of effective treatment options forced the Cnossen’s to get creative with how they have treated their daughter long term. Electing to now try alternative medicines like naturopathy.
“We found a great naturopath, a woman who herself had Lyme Disease and has recovered marvelously,” Cnossen said. “You do feel that pull of fear and unknowns still. It causes added stress to our other kids as we’re trying to figure things out. At this point, we’re just in a kind of that waiting period with treatment path we’ve chosen.”
In the months that have followed, Clarissa’s overall condition has improved. She is regaining some control of fine motor skills again, after not being able to write her own name for a time.
“A year ago she was in second grade. She’s always been the top of her class, never struggled with any learning, to see her fall like this is heartbreaking,” Cnossen said. “It became frustrating for her because she had never struggled before. We’re just hoping now that she will recover, and we’ve seen that progress so we’re hopeful.”