WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — It is hard to believe something as tiny as a tick can make you so sick. A Fuquay-Varina woman learned that after a camping trip last summer. She also learned finding out what was wrong was almost as tough as being sick.
Some people think you cannot get lyme disease in North Carolina, but do not tell that to Joy Neely. She got sick from a tick bite last summer.
She says her first real symptoms were chest pains.Two months later, Neely was having trouble reading and concentrating.
Doctors did not know what was wrong.
"It was frustrating because I knew I was still going down hill," she said.
Then Neely went to a different doctor who finally diagnosed her with lyme disease.
"She understood migraines, she understood the joint pains and everything I was going through," Neely said.
Lyme disease is a misunderstood illness. Just a few years ago, North Carolina did not have many cases of the disease.
"We're clearly seeing more cases," said University of North Carolina epidemiologist Dr. David Weber.
The state is now a hotspot for the disease. The number of cases has grown from 137 in 2002 to 155 last year.
While many patients say it is hard to get a diagnosis, doctors say lyme disease is a simple disease to treat. When caught early, a five-day course of antibiotics is all patients need.
Neely was not diagnosed until the disease had moved into a chronic stage, causing more severe problems. Weber says those problems include chronic arthritis, neurologic syndromes, memory loss and muscle weakness.
Neely has an intravenous line running from her arm into her chest area. Her husband gives her antibiotics twice a day. She is getting better, but the progress is slow.
Weber says Neely's case is proof that doctors need to be more aware of lyme disease.
"It's very important for all physicians in North Carolina to be aware of the tick-borne illnesses we have here," Weber said.
Neely is trying to spread the same message so no one else has to go through what she did.
"That complacency really needs to be looked at," Neely said. "People really need to understand that it is here."
Lyme disease is spread by the deer tick --- one of the smaller ticks that is about the size of the tip of a pencil.
The hallmark symptom of lyme disease is a bull's-eye shaped rash. It appears in most, but not all cases. Other symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue muscle ache and joint pain.