What is Lyme disease?
by Alison Mango
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by deer ticks. About 70% to 80% of people develop a telltale “bulls-eye rash“, and if they do, antibiotics can cure the infection. Left untreated, however, it can cause symptoms that are notoriously tricky to diagnose and treat: fatigue, body aches, joint pain, eye inflammation, and even neurological problems. Lyme-transmitting ticks are found in nearly half of the all the counties in the U.S. and Lyme affects at least 300,000 people annually, according to the CDC—and celebs are no stran
ger to the disease.
Singer Avril Lavigne was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2014 after suffering from bouts of extreme exhaustion. In an interview with People in April 2015, Lavigne said that she’d been lethargic and bedridden for five months. “I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t move,” she said in the interview. “I thought I was dying.”
In a later interview with Good Morning America, Lavigne spoke more about her battle with the disease. “I’d wake up and have night sweats and I felt like I had the flu,” she said. “This went on and off for a month.” After seeing numerous specialists who misdiagnosed her, the singer ultimately found a Lyme disease specialist and is expected to make a full recovery.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star was first diagnosed with Lyme neuroborreliosis, or Lyme disease with neurological complications, in 2012, according to ongoing struggle with the disease. In an emotional blog post on bravotv.com in January 2015, Foster wrote that she had gotten to “a 60% recovery” before relapsing. “I have lost the ability to read, write, or even watch TV, because I can’t process information or any stimulation for that matter,” Foster said in the post. “It feels like someone came in and confiscated my brain and tied my hands behind my back just to see life go by without me participating in it.”. Foster has been open about her
Foster addressed her illness again on an episode of Watch What Happens Live. “It’s been a long journey… every day I wake up trying to figure out how to get over this,” she said. “The most frustrating part of this disease is that you look so normal from the outside.”
Daryl Hall—who you probably know as one half of the band Hall & Oates—was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2005. “I’ve lived in the country for many, many years—in the New York/Connecticut border; it’s a hotbed for deer and other wildlife animals,” he said in a 2011 interview with Healthline. Hall’s wife and two stepchildren also suffer from the disease.
Before he first went to the doctor, Hall experienced a wide range of symptoms, from fevers to muscle stiffness and tremors. “I used to think I had allergies, because I used to feel feverish,” he said. “And then one day I got a really high fever, my neck stiffened up, I had all kinds of aches and pains and I got really bad tremors.” The musician’s symptoms were so excruciating that he was forced to cancel an upcoming tour and focus on his treatment.
The American novelist and author of the bestselling book The Joy Luck Club suffers from chronic Lyme disease, or late-stage neuroborreliosis. On her website, Tan said that she’s had the disease since 1999. “I passed off my early symptoms as stress and too many airplane rides with little sleep,” she wrote. “I had an accumulating array of discomforts—a stiff neck, insomnia, a constant headache, and a bad back followed by a frozen shoulder.”
In a 2013 op-ed in The New York Times, Tan described how she suffered through Lyme disease symptoms without a proper diagnosis or treatment for four years. “I was plagued by a variety of ailments that didn’t quite fit any one disease,” she wrote. “I suffered joint pain, head and muscle aches, insomnia, a racing heart, a gagging sensitivity to smells, constant nausea and exhaustion, plunging blood sugar, seizures and an obsession with my unknown illness.”
Though actor Alec Baldwin has been less vocal about his Lyme disease diagnosis, he referenced his chronic battle with the disease in a 2011 interview with The New York Times. “At the same time of year, I get really tired,” he said.
The bestselling author of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood revealed in a 2009 interview with goodreads.com that she had been diagnosed with chronic neurological Lyme disease five years earlier after falling ill while touring for her book. “I had what I thought was chronic bronchitis—just a cold that wouldn’t go away. By the time the movie came out, I was falling down sick,” she said. Wells’s doctors believe she originally contracted the disease 12 years before her diagnosis, which gave it time to spread to her neurological system.
Wells said that her symptoms were continuously misdiagnosed. After seeing numerous doctors, she finally consulted an environmental medicine doctor, who gave her the Lyme diagnosis. “What having Lyme has continued to teach me is that even when you can’t see it, there’s hope,” she says. “I reached a point when I didn’t think there was any hope. My doctor said to me that there is always hope, you just have to reach for it.”
The former The Sopranos and Entourage star contracted Lyme disease while filming a movie in rural New Jersey. Luckily, Sigler is an example of successful treatment after early detection: the actress first noticed a tingling sensation in her feet and shortly after, she experienced paralysis of her legs. After spending five days in a hospital, doctors diagnosed her with Lyme disease and she was given antibiotic treatment, which was effective in combating the disease.
“It was such a life-altering experience,” Sigler said in a 2001 interview with the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “I realized it could all be taken away in a moment. It’s hard to explain, when you sit there and can’t move anything.”
Bella Hadid and Anwar Hadid
At the Global Lyme Alliance inaugural gala in October 2015, Yolanda Foster revealed that two of her three children, Anwar and Bella Hadid, also have Lyme disease. A month after the gala, Bella Hadid spoke to the British magazine Evening Standard about her 2012 diagnosis: “I stopped driving because I kept crashing, because my brain just stopped working,” she said. “I was exhausted all the time. It affected my memory so I suddenly wouldn’t remember how to drive to Santa Monica from Malibu where I lived.” Hadid said she still has Lyme disease and has suffered excruciating pain in her back for three years.