A 17-year-old died suddenly after contracting a rare infection from a tick bite he didn’t know he had.
Joseph Elone had returned from a month in the woods, doing a prestigious environmental fellowship, just a week before he died in 2013.
As reported by Medium, the nature lover had enjoyed the experience so much, he even planned to go back in the autumn to go to Brown University, but his plans came to a halt when he brought a tick back to his home in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Joseph had no idea he was carrying the tick and neither did doctors, who didn’t realise until months after his tragic death.
The high school student had developed Lyme carditis, a rare complication which comes from a bite from an infected tick.
He paid a trip to his paediatrician after developing symptoms like low-grade fever, achiness, fatigue gastrointestinal symptoms, cough and sore throat, however his doctor believed he was just suffering from a cold.
But, when Joseph began to get woozy and sensitive to light, he returned to the doctor who ran blood tests, including one to check for Lyme disease, which came back negative.
A few days later, Joseph’s mum took him to the pharmacy to get come cough drops, but as they walked back into the house he collapsed.
He was rushed to hospital and managed to hang on through the night, but he died early the following morning.
After months of tests, medical examiners found Lyme spirochetes, the proverbial breadcrumb trail that Lyme bacteria leave in their wake, in Joseph’s lungs, liver, brain and, fatally, his heart.
While the heart infection is incredibly difficult to detect, at least nine people have died from it in the US, however there’s concerns that number could be set to increase as the warming climate makes more regions in America fertile breeding grounds for infected ticks.
Jospeh grew up in Poughkeepsie, which isn’t far from the centre of the cluster of Northeastern counties in the US where Lyme disease cases are at their most concentrated.
Each year, there are 30,000 new cases of the tickborne disease confirmed in the US and that number only keeps rising.
The majority of these can be solved with a couple of weeks’ worth of antibiotics. Other cases are cured with a longer course of drugs and a handful of patients are left with long-term symptoms even after the disease is no longer detectable with blood tests.
However, for around one per cent of people, Lyme bacteria sneak into the tissues of the vital organs, most devastatingly, the heart.
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist who started her career by producing The Royal Rosemurgey newspaper in 2004, which kept her family up to date with the goings on of her sleepy north east village. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining Tyla (formerly Pretty 52) in 2017, and progressing onto UNILAD in 2019.