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With Current Boom in Ticks, Girl Points to Lyme Disease, Shuns Medical Experts for Diagnosis

Update Date: May 15, 2013 09:57 AM EDT

In 2011, 18 girls and one boy in Le Roy, New York developed mysterious Tourette's syndrome-like symptoms. As they captured the attention of the nation, medical professionals rushed to think of a cause for their tics: the HPV vaccine Gardasil; a chemical spill; Pandas, an autoimmune disorder. One by one, each cause was ruled out. Finally, experts settled on an explanation of mass psychogenic illness, a particular form of conversion disorder, when stress is played out with physical symptoms. All 19 of the children have since recovered, with 14 receiving in-patient treatment at the Dent Neurological Institute.

Lori Brownell was lumped in with those girls, though she lived 250 miles away from Le Roy; she had driven through the town on a trip and had developed symptoms at around the same time. But, according to ABC News, Ms. Brownell and her family reject the diagnosis of conversion disorder. Instead, Ms. Brownell says that she has chronic Lyme disease.

The diagnosis is controversial, to say the least. Medical literature does not support the diagnosis, saying that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease is killed off after about a week of antibiotics. Insurance companies typically do not cover treatment for the condition. Many say that Tourette's syndrome is not a symptom of Lyme disease.

Regardless, Ms. Brownell and her parents believe that the disease is the source of her symptoms, having treated it with intraveneous antibiotics for nearly a year. Some medical experts say that long-term antibiotic use is a placebo at best; one woman died after suffering from complications from 27 months of antibiotics. Still, there is increasing research on post-treatment Lyme disease, where symptoms persist even after treatment.

The symptoms for Lyme disease are typically a circular rash at the site of the tick bite, fevers, chills, headache, muscle ache, joint pain and rash. In fact, according to My Pet World, the tick population in the United States has grown a great deal in recent years, putting humans and their pets at risk. Though it is not clear whether ticks have become more prevalent or whether doctors have become better at recognizing the signs, the wet weather, combined with a mild winter, and many people's shared habitat with animals like deer, which carry ticks, pose a significant risk.

The North Dakota Department of Health suggests that, in order to lower the risk of tick-borne diseases, people wear insect repellent, tuck in their shirts, wear long pants and tuck the bottoms into socks or boots and wear light-colored clothes in order to spot ticks more easily. Always check your dog before he or she comes inside. Remove ticks with tweezers and apply steady pressure until they are free, but don't crush the animal. Ticks are most common in wooded areas or places with high grass.

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