Loudoun Lyme 5K takes aim at Lyme disease

For several months, Steve Gotschi has spent more hours than he can count organizing the first Loudoun Lyme 5K run.

It’s an event that Gotschi said would never have been created if his wife, Reagan, had been properly diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease when she first showed symptoms of the disease in August 2007.

Instead, Reagan Gotschi, 42, continues to battle the debilitating disease, and Steve Gotschi, 44, has become determined to help others in Loudoun County avoid the trials his family has faced.

Loudoun has one the highest rates of Lyme infection in the United States, and the highest rate in Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 200 confirmed cases of Lyme were reported in Loudoun last year.

The Loudoun Lyme 5K run will be Sunday at the National Conference Center in Leesburg. Proceeds will go to the National Capital Lyme Disease Association. In addition to the run and a 1K walk for families, the event will have educational outreach by county health officials, Lyme disease experts, medical and veterinary specialists and local politicians — including Delegates Barbara J. Comstock (R), Thomas Davis Rust (R) and Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R) — who have advocated for legislation supporting Lyme disease research and awareness. There will also be vendors and sponsors from the community, Steve Gotschi said.

The illness, which is caused by bacteria that can be transmitted to people through the bite of an infected tick, is prevalent in rural and suburban areas inhabited by wild rodents, deer and other mammals that attract the parasitic insects. Loudoun, with its open fields and grassy areas, paired with a rapidly rising population, is a particular hot spot for the disease.

More than 24,000 confirmed new cases of Lyme disease were diagnosed in the United States in 2009, according to the CDC, but the number might be far higher, because the disease’s symptoms mimic other illnesses. As a result, many cases are not properly diagnosed.

Gotschi said he hopes that educating the community might spare others the stress and pain of his wife’s experience.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Gotschi. He, his wife and two of their four children live in Leesburg. “She’d have her good days, and she’d have her bad days when she could barely get off the couch.”

It started with vague complaints of tingling and numbness in her arms and hands when she was driving, he said. Gotschi, who owns DryHomes Roofing and Siding in Sterling, was accustomed to occasional aches and pains as a side effect of his job and didn’t think much of it, he said.

“I thought it was just a nerve issue,” he said. “I thought it would subside.”

It didn’t. In the course of a year, Reagan Gotschi had countless appointments with doctors and specialists, two exploratory surgeries to determine the source of pelvic pain, numerous medications and worsening symptoms, including headaches, extreme fatigue, memory loss, aches and pains, and soaring heart rates that sent her to the emergency room more than once.

It wasn’t until just four months ago that Reagan Gotschi was diagnosed with Lyme and began a new course of treatment. Although she had been tested for Lyme soon after experiencing symptoms, the test came back negative. That is not uncommon, because it takes time for the body to produce the antibodies that are detected for a Lyme disease diagnosis, said Monte Skall, executive director of the National Capital Lyme Disease Association.

The nonprofit organization supports Lyme disease research and focuses on spreading awareness of and information about the illness throughout the Washington region, Skall said.

“Loudoun is really dealing with this problem, big time,” Skall said. When the organization handed out informational pamphlets at a recent county health fair, she said, “we saw a continuous stream of people who have Lyme disease.”

The most effective way to combat Lyme disease is “education, education, education,” Skall said. “I can’t stress it enough.”

She recommends that people check themselves thoroughly for ticks after exposure to areas where the insects are commonly found. And even though the Health Department does not recommend that residents test specific ticks after being bitten, Skall disagrees.

“Just because the tick was carrying the bacteria doesn’t mean that it was passed on,” she said. “But to me, it’s a part of the puzzle you want to solve.” Knowing whether a patient has been exposed to the bacteria can help ensure proper screening and diagnosis in case symptoms appear, she said.

Skall, who is part of a Lyme disease task force organized by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), said “a repeat Lyme test is really important” to make sure that an early negative result doesn’t rule out the disease prematurely.

Early diagnosis matters; treatment is far more effective when the disease is recognized quickly, she said.

“I know the devastation that this disease can do. I’ve seen it over and over again. I know what patients go through,” Skall said.

As of Tuesday, Steve Gotschi said, more than 300 people had registered for the 5K run. His goal is to raise about $20,000 for the National Capital Lyme Disease Association.

Skall said those funds would be used to further the organization’s educational outreach. By helping people learn what to look for and what actions to take if an infection is suspected, Skall said, “we feel that the public will actually make the difference with fighting this disease.”

Information about Lyme disease can be found on Loudoun County’s Web site at www.loudoun.gov/lyme and at the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site, www.cdc.gov.

To learn about the Loudoun Lyme 5K race or to register, go to www.
loudounlyme.org
.

Caitlin Gibson covers Loudoun County for The Washington Post.
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