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CDC, metro Lyme patient warn about grave nature of insect-borne illnesses as hot weather arrives

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Warm weather is here, and so are the bugs.

The Center for Disease Control says the number of Americans getting sick from tick and mosquito bites has tripled.

Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Kansas Health System, said he believes that statistic is up because physicians are able to diagnose symptoms related to a bug bite better than they used to be.

"Maybe we're recognizing symptoms and testing for it more. In addition, we've had discovery of new viruses and disease causing entities. There's more diagnostics available as opposed to several years ago," Hawkinson told FOX4.

Hawkinson also points to the active lifestyle that's led by many patients who come down with insect-borne illnesses. He said those people are often outside more often than people who are not. Ticks often breed in tall grass, and mosquitos are known for making their nests near ponds and other sources of standing water.

As the threat of mosquito and tick bites rises, the CDC says people should be more vigilant against them. Insect repellents and long sleeves and pants should be sufficient to safeguard against the insects.

One local infectious disease survivor in the metro advises these illnesses are nothing to take lightly.

"I thought I was dying. I knew I was," Natalie Goodpaster, 38, told FOX4.

Natalie Goodpaster

Goodpaster, a native of Blue Springs, holds a Ph.D. in economics from Duke University and remains a staunch fan of Blue Devil basketball. She said it was late 2009, while she was living in the Boston area that her illness took a bad turn.

She visited multiple doctors before one finally diagnosed her with chronic Lyme disease. Goodpaster said she was working as an economist at the time, and since her diagnosis, she's lost her job, her income and her home.

"I was unable to speak, feed myself, take myself to the bathroom, bathe, dress myself or anything. I had no use of my hands," Goodpaster said Monday.

Goodpaster sometimes jokes that her adopted dog, Sadie, might have brought home the tick that bit her. Goodpaster was 29 years old at the time, and she often removed ticks from her pup, but she said she doesn't remember being bitten by the insects.

"I haven't left my home in three years. The fact that I can sit up this tall is a miracle," Goodpaster said.

Nowadays, Natalie requires 24-hour care, and she's fed with a bottle. Goodpaster said she's all but given up on conventional medicine, and switching to herbal care to battle the insect-borne illness has helped her fight her battle to some degree of success.

"I'm starting to feel like things are slowly starting to come back," Goodpaster said, her voice cracking from fatigue.

Infectious disease specialists in the metro say Lyme disease isn't common to the Kansas City area, but cases of West Nile Virus and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, both of which originate from tick bites, can be found here.

"You can get severely-ill and end up in the ICU or even die," Hawkinson said, speaking in general terms concerning bug-borne illness.

Hawkinson, a physical with the University of Kansas Hospital since 2010, said sometimes symptoms of a tick bite don't show for a few days, and when they do, patients need care.

"Things such as general malaise, which is just feeling bad. Maybe fevers, chills, maybe muscle aches or joint aches. There can be general symptoms that can be present in any of these tick-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses," Hawkinson said Monday.

Hawkinson said patients showing symptoms of West Nile Virus can often recall a mosquito bite that likely gave them the virus. He points out Zika and malaria as being mosquito-based illnesses as well, but those conditions are less common in the Kansas City area.

A Go Fund Me account has been established to help Goodpaster pay her mounting medical costs. Click here to see that crowdfunding page.