Florida wildlife officer with Lyme disease opens up about living with tick-borne illness

When it comes to living with Lyme disease, an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wasn’t afraid to be candid about how the tick-borne illness —  which he says he contracted while on the job —  has affected him.

Officer Lee Lawshe recently told local news station News4Jax about the disease he said changed his life forever.

The wildlife officer said he lived with the illness for years before he was formally diagnosed with the disease, which is primarily caused by two types of bacteria —  Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii — in the U.S., specifically, according to the Mayo Clinic. Lawshe received the diagnosis in 2018.

He told the news station he will live with the disease for the rest of his life due to the length of time it took to receive an official diagnosis. (Some patients who contract the disease may at first receive a negative blood test for Lyme disease, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

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Though Lawshe told News4Jax he takes medication for the disease, there are days where he has trouble getting out of bed. Last year, he had to take half a year off of work due to the severity of his symptoms.

“It’s really just turned our lives upside down,” Lawshe told the outlet. “I used to do whatever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to.”

Lawshe spends a lot of time outdoors for his job. Some days, he will come home with numerous ticks on his body.

“I’ll go in the woods and pull 100 ticks off me. My wife sits and picks [ticks] off, 40 or 50 at a time. Do I get them all? Maybe, maybe not,” he said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, those who spend time in “grassy and heavily wooded areas” are more likely to contract Lyme disease, which is curable with antibiotics, especially if caught early.

“Most patients who are treated in later stages of the disease also respond well to antibiotics, although some may have suffered long-term damage to the nervous system or joints,” the CDC added.

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Early symptoms of the disease include a rash at the infected tick bite site as well as fever, chills, fatigue, headache, body ache and other flu-like symptoms, per the Mayo Clinic.

Those with Lyme disease may also later develop a rash on other areas of the body, joint pain and even neurological problems such as meningitis and numbness in the limbs. Some infected can also experience severe fatigue and eye inflammation, according to the medical facility.

In a statement to News4Jax, the FWS said it’s taking “all preventative measures including the use of enhanced repellants.”

“We stand behind our employees and will do anything we can to support them and ensure their well-being,” it added.

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