Donegal farmer highlights fallout from Lyme disease

A Donegal farmer who suffered serious ill-health after contracting Lyme disease is urging others to be aware of its dangers.

Charlie Harkin from Carndonagh went undiagnosed for years but is now grateful to be on the road to recovery.

Along with three others, he has set up a support group called Donegal Lyme Disease and Co-Infections.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by a bite of ixodid – hard-bodied – ticks. The infected tick can also transmit other infections, called co-infections. Peak season is from April to October.

The 40 year-old suckler and sheep farmer went from doctor to doctor and also tried alternative medicine before being finally diagnosed as having Lyme disease in 2013.

At one stage he was left unable to speak and to use his right side – and was fortunate that his father and nephews could take over the running of the farm.

“I first got bitten by a tick when I was 19 and again when I was 30. I wasn’t aware of the dangers and thought it was ringworm. It disappeared after a while.

“Then, when I was 30, the rash came up again. I got flu-like symptoms and my health really started to deteriorate. It affected my hands, legs, bowel and speech.

I went to several doctors and was sent to seven different psychiatrists as I was told it was all in my head.

“I also went the alternative route and was told by complementary therapists that they could see a major infection but they didn’t know what it was. I tried conventional and natural medicine but nothing was working.”

Charlie ended up in hospital in Sligo for two weeks and recalls feeling utterly frustrated.

He recounts: “Eventually someone told my wife, Serena, about a doctor specialising in tropical medicine. It wasn’t until July 2014 that I got a diagnosis of Lyme disease.

“I’m not as bad as I was – I’m just about able to run the farm but, if I overdo things, I have to go to bed. Generally I have made a big improvement and I can see changes every year. The tide is starting to turn.

I did 26 months of antibiotics and I am trying to build up my immune system with supplements. It has been very expensive even though I now have a medical card.

Charlie’s mission is now to build awareness of Lyme disease. “It can lie dormant in your body for years. I was out working hard all the time but it was chipping away at me. My body was exhausted.

“God forbid, if there was a farm accident, the farm would suffer. Lyme disease also affects the family, the farm and the wider circle,” said Charlie.

Donegal is said to be a high-risk area – but his message is that all farmers and other people need to remain vigilant all year around.