Ticks: the underestimated risk

They were small stings that dramatically changed heidi sattes-muller’s life. From an arachnid, only a few millimeters in size. Ticks have infected the woman from aura with lyme disease. An underestimated disease that affects your life extremely and forever.

Sattes-muller and her husband harald muller have been running a sheep farm together in aura for almost three decades. Ticks are an occupational hazard. "As a shepherd, you always have tick bites. I can’t really say exactly when I contracted lyme disease", says sattes-muller.

She didn’t take the bites too seriously, wasn’t aware of the risk to her health, the aura woman admits today. "I thought: everybody has it." three times – in 2001, 2007 and 2008 – she developed wanderrote, a circular, sharply defined redness that spreads in a ring around the tick bite. The typical sign of lyme disease.

Sattes-muller loves to treat the infection with antibiotics – as is common practice in orthodox medicine. What she said she didn’t know: in 1998 she had contracted clamydia from a lambing of sheep (miscarriage(s) triggered by infection). A pre-existing condition that probably prevented the immune system and antibiotics from effectively combating the borreliosis pathogens. It is also possible that other lyme disease infections remain undiagnosed.

Heidi sattes-muller was soon plagued by joint pain – sometimes in her elbows, sometimes in her knees, wherever she moved. "The pains have also passed again. But each time they were so strong that I thought I had to go to the doctor." an orthopaedic surgeon suspects rheumatism, gout, tennis elbow or golf elbow. He did not test for borreliosis at first.

The aches and pains spread. Soon the auraer’s skin and muscles were hurting, too. In addition, I was constantly tired and exhausted. When sattes-muller told her orthopedist about her many tick bites, he loved to test her for lyme disease. "Now I finally knew what it is all about, why I feel sick so often, why I am often so grouchy."

Alone: the knowledge was of little use. Because lyme disease cannot be fought, let alone cured, after a certain stage. Unlike tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), there is no vaccine against it.

For sattes-muller, an intense struggle began, not only against the symptoms of her disease. She failed in court in her attempt to have lyme disease recognized as an occupational disease by the employers’ liability insurance association. In her words, it was and is impossible to trace the direct path from the tick bite to the disease. In addition, her form of lyme disease – lyme arthritis – cannot be clearly proven or disproven by a general medical examination. The current anti-corruption tests only prove that you were once infected with borrelia bacteria, not whether you have an active disease. "There is no doctor, either from traditional medicine or from other fields, who can treat it, no proof that the pain comes from it", heidi sattes-muller sums up her dilemma.

But lyme disease continues to rule her life. "I’m quickly flat on my face, tired of doing my chores. Because of the pain I have given up my social activities." when things are going well, they help out a little in the sheepfold, but can only contribute light tasks. "I am doubly tired at the end of it, because it is so unbelievably exhausting." for fear of being stung again, sattes-muller seldom goes out to pasture, almost never into the tall grass. "I have gross respect and even a phobia of ticks."

Barbara bauer from bad bocklet shares the fate of heidi sattes-muller. She heads the lyme disease self-help group in the district of bad kissingen, which has been in existence for about three years now. Bauer talks about lyme disease as a worldwide phenomenon that continues to spread. "There are more and more sufferers and self-help groups."

Both have the feeling that their disease is underestimated, even trivialized. Sattes-muller: "i know a shepherd who had a tick bite and was given antibiotics. Kurt felt better after taking it. He gave the remaining tablets to his dog."

Within the already disproportionately affected bavaria, the district of bad kissingen is considered a tick stronghold. The bavarian state office for health and food safety received between 1. March 2013 (beginning of the obligation to report) and 31. December 2017 from the county 289 cases of lyme disease reported. For the years 2014 and 2017, there was an average of 54 patients per 100,000 inhabitants per year. In the administrative district of lower franconia, the figure was 35, and in the whole of bavaria 28. According to the health department of bad kissingen, a total of 440 cases of borreliosis have been reported in the district since the introduction of mandatory reporting in 2013. Barbara bauer assumes that there is a high number of unreported cases in the district, since "in recent years, more and more people have come forward with more dramatic symptoms and also know of others".

The two women concerned do not want to "whip up fear, but to make clear that one should have the dangers of a tick bite in the back of one’s mind", says barbara bauer. They appeal to people to observe the valid precautionary measures . It is necessary to walk in the meadows and in the grassy woods wearing only sturdy shoes and light-colored closed clothes. In the evening you should check yourself for ticks (see text below). However, this does not mean 100 percent protection.

But they also criticize the fact that too little research is being done on the subject in germany despite the recognized increase in the danger of ticks. A small question from grunen deputies, including manuela rottmann, in the bundestag, for example, revealed that "the federal ministry of education and research is currently not calling for any research projects to investigate and better diagnose human diseases resulting from infection with borrelia (lyme disease)".

"I had not even remotely suspected the consequences of a tick bite", says heidi sattes-muller today. A realization she was happy to do without.

The borreliosis support group will meet again after a corona-related break on 17. July. Since only nine visitors are admitted in addition to the group leader, registration is requested at the bad kissinger multigenerational house.