To the editor:

Many people, like myself, love the outdoors - hunting, fishing, hiking and the like. However, we know that nature, for all its beauty, harbors life-threatening dangers. Here in Indiana, we have a relatively new danger that our people need to know about.

Six years ago, I began having unexplained health problems. Over time, those health problems grew both in scope and severity until I became totally disabled with severe cardiologic, neurologic, endocrinology, and respiratory symptoms. Later, my joints became inflamed and swollen.

The previous year, I was able to hike many miles at a time on the Knobstone Trail, but by June of 2013, I couldn't walk 50 yards before my heart became wildly erratic, I was terribly short of breath, my vision was distorted, ears would ring intensely, I would black out and become acutely and chronically fatigued.

Gratefully, I have a family doctor who listened and persistently looked for answers even after specialists said things like, "You have all the symptoms of MS, but all of your tests are negative." In time, it was discovered that I have late-stage or late-disseminated Lyme disease.

There is no doubt whatsoever, verifiable by an Indiana Academy of Sciences study, that we have deer ticks that carry the Lyme bacteria present in nearly every county in Indiana, including the southern counties. Lyme disease, potentially life threatening, is the fastest growing infectious disease in America.

Last summer, the CDC acknowledged that its longstanding estimate of 30,000 new cases a year was grossly lacking. Their new estimate is that there are at least 300,000 new cases in the U.S. every year. It's critical to be aware that this growing disease includes Indiana.

Here are precautions one should be aware of:

• When walking in wooded or grassy areas, wear shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves. Try to stick to trails.

• Apply an insect repellent with a 20 percent or higher concentration of DEET to your skin and a apply product, like Repel, with permethrin to clothing or buy pretreated clothing.

• Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks. Be especially vigilant after spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Deer ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin, so you may not discover them unless you search carefully. It's helpful to shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth may be enough to remove any unattached ticks.

• Don't assume you're immune. Even if you've had Lyme disease before, you can get it again.

• Remove a tick as soon as possible with tweezers. Gently grasp the tick near its head or mouth. Don't squeeze or crush the tick, but pull carefully and steadily. Once you've removed the entire tick, dispose of it and apply antiseptic to the bite area.

• If you should develop a bull's eye rash, see a doctor immediately! The earlier antibiotic treatment is begun, the better and quicker the recovery. Be aware, though, that not everyone who has been infected with the Lyme bacteria develops a rash. Symptoms may not appear for some time and may be intermittent and mimic other illnesses, so please be aware that you may need to take the lead on pursuing the possibility of Lyme disease. Your search will likely be complicated by the fact that there are notably divergent thoughts among reputable medical institutions about the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme. That discussion would take pages.

One point worth noting, and verified by Columbia University, is that Lyme disease is tissue tropic. In other words, it is only in the blood stream or body fluids for a relatively short time. The problem here is that all of our best diagnostic tests, which are not terribly reliable to begin with, are drawn on body fluids. Once the Lyme bacteria moves into body tissue, the symptoms begin to become more severe and there is no reliable test to confirm the disease. Therefore, a patient will likely go through an extensive period of multiple and varied tests to rule our other sources of their severe illness.

Prevention is critical. Please be mindful of the threat and of the steps that can be taken to avoid the fastest growing infectious disease in America.

Brian Lowry