Olivia Goodreau is trying to help other people avoid what happened to her: Lyme disease.
Goodreau partnered with thePLAN, a software company in central Ohio, to develop TickTracker, a free smartphone app that lets users log the types of ticks they see and where they found them using geolocation. The ticks are displayed on a map.
“I hope that it will bring awareness to everyone so they don’t end up like me and they don’t end up with a bunch of diseases,” Goodreau said.
The summer before she started second grade, Goodreau and her family traveled from their home in Colorado to Lake of the Ozarks. There, she said, she was bitten by a tick she didn’t see. She didn’t have the typical “bull’s-eye” rash, either, which appears in about half of patients eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease.
When she got back home and started school, she started feeling sick. It only got worse.
“I would lose my vision for a period of time,” Goodreau, 14, said. “I was extremely dizzy, I had a tremor in my right hand and I could not physically hold up my head.”
Over the next 4 1/2 years, Goodreau visited dozens of doctors before she was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease along with a host of related medical problems.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says there have been 11 cases of Lyme disease so far in 2019. A tracking map on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website shows cases in Missouri between 2001 and 2017. Dorothy Feir’s research at St. Louis University in 1994 found ticks collected in Missouri tested positive for B. burgdorferi, which causes the disease.
Goodreau said she had trouble keeping friends after her diagnosis because many of her peers thought Lyme disease was contagious, which it is not. It also took a toll on her schoolwork.
“I feel like I had to work twice as hard just to get the same grade as someone else because I was having massive brain-fog issues,” Goodreau said.
During another trip to Lake of the Ozarks years later, Goodreau found 200 poppy-seed ticks on her dog. As she and her mother removed the ticks, she wondered if there was a way to see what kinds of ticks are in certain locations.
TickTracker went live a year ago. It is also one of four projects to complete the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ The Opportunity Project health tech sprint, along with other technology projects focusing on preventing Lyme disease.
In addition to TickTracker, Goodreau’s organization, the LivLyme Foundation, has provided grants to Lyme disease researchers and patients.
“Our purpose there is to help kids with Lyme disease that cannot afford their Lyme medication, since most insurance companies won’t cover it,” Goodreau said. “And the other goal is to help scientists find funding and cures for Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, because we don’t have a cure yet.”
According to the CDC, early detection and treatment with antibiotics can allow patients to recover from Lyme disease. If it goes undetected, the disease can damage the immune system and tissues. And, even when there is early treatment, some patients develop persistent, or long-term, Lyme disease.
The TickTracker app has step-by-step instructions for identifying ticks and removing them with tweezers. Goodreau said the conventional wisdom of burning or ripping ticks out of the skin is counter-productive. Burning them makes them burrow in more deeply, and ripping them out leaves their head in the skin, which still leaves the person open to infection.
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