Insect Bite: 'Lyme disease almost destroyed my life'
An insect bite seems like a minor annoyance. But as the HSE urges us to protect themselves against tick bites, Celine Naughton talks to those whose lives have been shattered by a single encounter
Getting out and about in summer comes with a government health warning – protect yourself against Lyme disease, which is spread by tick bites.
The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre urges ramblers, campers, mountain bikers and other people who take part in outdoor pursuits to be vigilant in checking for signs of tick bites, because the effects can be devastating.
It is no exaggeration to say that Carol Galvin's Lyme disease has wreaked havoc on her whole family.
Not only has it robbed the 36-year-old of her physical faculties, but her husband David, once a self-employed builder, had to give up work a year ago to become full-time carer for both Carol and their seven-year-old daughter Molly – and now they are about to lose their family home in Athlone.
It was eight years ago when Carol first complained of numbness and pins-and-needles – the kind of general, vague symptoms that can accompany a wide range of afflictions.
"Tests were inconclusive, but doctors told us she probably had MS," says David, speaking on his wife's behalf, because it is difficult for her to hold a conversation.
"She became worse over the years and ended up in a wheelchair.
"Then we met someone who told us about Lyme disease and that's when the light went on.
"The thing is, we don't even know when she was bitten."
Blood tests confirmed that Carol had the disease, although by then it had become so advanced it affected her eyesight, speech, muscle movement and kidneys. Through a series of fundraising events and a groundswell of local support, the Galvins raised enough money to take Carol to a specialist clinic in Germany for treatment.
"It was a relief to know what we were dealing with at last," says David.
"Lyme disease is the great imitator, its symptoms are like those of numerous other conditions and consequently, it's often not picked up in this country.
"Many Irish people we met in Germany had initially been diagnosed in Ireland with things like fibromyalgia, MS or Parkinson's."
Carol was put on intravenous antibiotics along with a course of different therapies.
"It was incredible: having been in a wheelchair for a year, in Germany she was up walking three flights of stairs. Sadly, she had a setback recently and is back in the wheelchair.
"She has developed Parkinson's-like symptoms, including involuntary shaking.
"She has to drink out of a cup with a lid and spout. It's very difficult to see her like this. Molly sits on the bed with her in the afternoons, telling her about her day, or they watch TV together. Carol would just love to be outside playing with her. A home help comes in two hours a day during the week, which gives me a chance to do the shopping, or go to the pharmacy, and Carol's family are brilliant."
Thanks to the support of the Carol Galvin Lyme Disease Fund, the couple will return to Germany next month with high hopes for an improvement in her condition.
"She may become very sick, because when you start killing the virus, the treatment can make you feel worse before you get better," says David. "They can't tell us how long her recovery will take, but we live in hope."
Meanwhile, his carer's allowance does not cover the mortgage on the house and the 'For Sale' sign is up.
What will they do then? Where will they go?
"I don't know," he replies. "This thing has taken so much from us, we live day by day.
"We would dread anybody else going through what we've been through, and urge everybody to be aware and check themselves."