Kids can be hard to reach these days, what with all of that party rocking and steamy vampire romances distracting them.
One woman is using a very different approach to get their attention and teach them about a very serious health problem: Lyme disease.
Sandy Lafleur, an assistant to the nurse at Milford High School, wrote and recorded a rap song called “Tick Talk Rap” that explains the tick-induced bacterial infection and how to prevent it.
Students Darrick Jones and Dillon Harwood joined her in the nurse’s office during the school day and they recorded the song right there and then. The music and drum beat were supplied by an electronic keyboard.
The song is filled with facts on tick bite prevention, removal and symptoms of Lyme disease:
“Ticks are very tiny and they hide in brush and grass, and they latch upon you as you pass. You think you’d feel the bite but you’d be so wrong. So listen up, you all, to the rest of my song.”
The song has received attention from some public health officials in other parts of the country as far as California. “Lyme is a much bigger problem than EEE or West Nile,” said Lafleur. “Someone has to do something about this.”
Lafleur certainly does not rate her rapping skills among popular hip hop artists such as Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West, being a folk music artist. Her real instrument is an Appalachian dulcimer she plays as the Wandering Dulcimer.
So why would folk enthusiast from Amherst dabble in educational hip hop? Because she doesn’t want anyone else to have the same painful experience with Lyme disease that she has had.
Just One Bite
Sandy Lafleur first found out she had long-term Lyme disease in late 2010 after she noticed her leg slowly begin to numb. She didn’t think much of it, but the non-feeling spread to her arm and face as days passed.
An emergency room visit turned into an extended stay as numerous tests gave no answers to why parts of her body were losing sensation. She was released from the hospital after four days, but her body was still numbing.
So, Lafleur took her health in her own hands and began doing legwork to find out what was wrong with her body. After going through her medical records and learning of additional testing available, she learned the answer six weeks later.
She was diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, which was caused by her chronic case of Lyme disease.
“You can look so normal and be so sick,” said Lafleur. She didn’t even know how long she has had the disease. Yet, she had been tested for Lyme before through the ELISA test, and the results came back negative.
It was only after she had requested a Western Blot test for the disease that she learned she was infected. This test was much more accurate than the standard test recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which misses almost 50 percent cases, according to Lafleur.
The environmental enthusiast knew she had tick bites before, but none of them developed the bulls-eye rash or flu-like symptoms that are indicators of Lyme infection. While common cases of Lyme may be cleared with antibiotics, her condition is more permanent.
It has been a slow and painful journey for her to be able to regain some of her mobility and get back to the activities she loves. She has gone through therapy and taken antibiotics, supplements and expensive intravenous infusions at home.
“I do plan on getting better, and am working very hard on it. So far, I have seen improvements,” said Lafleur.
Fighting Natures “Dirty Needle”
Sandy Lafleur’s brief stint in hip hop music isn’t the only thing she is going to spread awareness of Lyme disease. She has made it her mission to let as many people as possible know just how serious the disease is.
“I felt like I had to do something, and I had to take action,” she said. “If we don’t raise awareness, doctors won’t diagnose it.”
Her first step was writing the doctors that had misdiagnosed her condition, not to scold them, but let them know that they needed to take Lyme disease more seriously. Public health officials aren’t helping, says Lafleur.
She claims that they are not taking the tick problem as seriously as they should, and are not doing enough to inform doctors and the public about the infectious insects. The problem is that some doctors are rigid and close-minded, and don’t read anything but what the CDC tells them, she said.
Lafleur’s husband also has the disease with different symptoms, and she knows many more who are dealing with the disease. Her home state of New Hampshire has the second highest number of incidents in country this year.
This passionate health advocate is now doing her part to spread the word, especially with the students she treats at Milford High School. She has information aplenty available for students and is constantly reminding them to check for ticks and be wary of any suspicious symptoms
She also makes sure students see an informational movie for students by Time for Lyme, with some students even discovering a diagnosis from their doctor for Lyme disease after viewing the movie.
The infectious disease can be fatal and mimic symptoms of other conditions, which may be why so many go undiagnosed. Lafleur said that ticks can share other infections on top of Lyme, and these are not treated with normal medication.
“A tick is nature's dirty needle,” she said.
How To Protect Yourself
The first step to avoiding Lyme disease and other transmitted infections is to keep the ticks off your body. That means checking for ticks after any outdoor activity, at least twice a day, and that includes the pets.
Lafleur also recommends wearing clothing treated with Permethrin, which repels the little bloodsuckers. Ticks can be active all year long, as long as the temperature is above 39 degrees, which means constant awareness.
Children are at the highest risk of infection, since they are likely to play in tick-infested areas and simply pull a tick off haphazardly. An infection can happen in as little as four hours, and the removal of a tick is very important once they dig their heads into the skin, said Lafleur.
A tick spoon or pointy tweezers should be used to gently remove the bug, with extra attention to grabbing the head during removal. She recommends saving the tick in order to test them for any infection.
If you or somebody you know is experiencing Lyme disease symptoms, or are not able to get a diagnosis, Lafleur recommends keeping the possibility of Lyme disease in mind.
“You know your own body, and if you feel sick, keep pushing until you get answers.”
For more information on Lyme disease and associated diseases, visit the International Lyme And Associated Diseases Society or The Lyme Disease Association.