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Doctors debate, patients suffer: The fight over chronic Lyme disease in Wisconsin

0 2 years ago

WISCONSIN — Wisconsin Watch is a nonprofit newsroom that focuses on government integrity and quality of life issues. Sign up for our newsletter for more stories straight to your inbox.

If life had gone as planned, Maria Alice Lima Freitas would be in medical school, inspired by the career of her father, a surgeon who practiced in Brazil. But instead of changing careers, the 49-year-old therapist retired from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Freitas says her undiagnosed Lyme disease has sapped her energy, fogged her thinking and caused pain in her neck, shoulders, hands and right knee. She has three times deferred her entrance into medical school while struggling with myriad symptoms that she attributes to Lyme.

Most of her doctors say she is mistaken, and that her symptoms, which began in 2015, are due to rheumatoid arthritis.

Freitas is among thousands of Wisconsinites who say they are suffering from a chronic or long-term version of the disease. The infection comes from tiny ticks primarily found in the northeastern United States, including in Wisconsin — which is a hot spot for Lyme, ranking No. 5 among states for Lyme cases in 2019.

Nationally, Lyme disease infects an estimated 476,000 people a year. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports the state had 3,076 estimated cases of Lyme disease in 2020 — a doubling in the past 15 years. But medical entomologists say Lyme cases in the state could be 10 times higher than reported.


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