JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In 2006, an outgoing and healthy Andrea King became very sick.
"My friends told me they thought I was dying," King said. "I said to my family medical doctor, I feel like there is something in my blood. It is like my blood is angry."
She became extremely tired, had muscle aches and a fever, but nine doctors later she still didn't have a diagnosis.
It wasn't until 10 months after the on-set of symptoms that was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease, which comes from getting bitten by an infected tick.
"It is heartbreaking to me that doctors in this area are not more aware and literate about Lyme and tick born disease," said King.
Awareness is something Dr. Kerry Clark at the University of North Florida is working to change.
He says it is much more common in Florida than most would believe.
"My research has identified hundreds of cases all across the Southern United States, many of them in Florida. That [Lyme is only in the North] is just one of the many myths about Lyme disease we are trying to dispel," told Dr. Clark
Because Lyme is typically considered a problem in the Northeast, it is often not tested for in patients in the south.
Not getting treated with antibiotics immediately means the disease will continue to spread through the body, making it harder to fight.
According to the Florida Department of Health, from 2000-2012 there have been 913 reported cases of Lyme Disease.
Yet even for those who do test positive for Lyme, getting treatment can be a serious challenge.
"This disease in every step of the way was like entering the twilight zone," explained Aimee Boggs.
When Aimee's husband, Dane Boggs, became very sick after what he thought was a spider bite, he waited two painful years before he was diagnosed with Lyme.
Even then, Dane had to travel all the way to South Florida to see a doctor that would treat Lyme.
"His condition was such that it required an IV antibiotic that after two months my insurer declined continued payment of those drugs, which costs in the realm of $5,000 and $7,000 a month," told Boggs.
For Lyme patients like Dane Boggs, it isn't uncommon for their insurance companies to deny coverage. That is because the CDC does not recognize Lyme as chronic or life-long disease. The CDC calls it Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome argues that the symptoms after treatment will go away with time.
Dane and Aimee Bogg s disagree and have spent around $100,000 dollars out of their own pocket seeking treatment for Dane's Lyme disease.
"It put a strain on finances, marriage, for anyone who has been through an illness you know what we are talking about,"said Dane," People with Lyme are too sick to even fight the battle."
Another challenge Lyme patients face is finding a doctor.
In North Florida, Dr. Shirley Hartman is one of the only doctors that treats Lyme Disease patients. She understands what her patients have been through, for years her own daughter was thought to have Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, only to then test positive for Lyme.
"They are patronized and told they are not sick and told they just need to buck up and live with it," told Dr. Hartman.
Lyme treating doctors can find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place when trying to treat patients.
"It has happened that insurance companies have complained about physicians that prescribe expensive, long-term courses of antibiotics that the insurance companies have to pay for. Then these physicians are investigated by medical societies and boards and some of them have lost their licenses or had to move to other states," explaind Dr. Hartman.
According to the Northeast Florida Lyme Association, awareness is the key to improving health outcomes.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease include (but are not limited to) a circular rash around a tick bite, severe fatigue, muscle and joint pain, fever and in more advanced cases nerve problems and problems thinking.
Also not all blood tests check for Lyme. Don't be afraid to ask for a "Western Blot Test" if you suspect you may have Lyme Disease.
To learn more about the disease here is a link to the Northeast Florida Lyme Association: http://northeastfloridalymeassociation.org/
You can also find the group on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/NEFLALyme?sk=wall
A detailed list of Lyme Disease symptoms: http://northeastfloridalymeassociation.org/symptoms.html
The Centers for Disease Control page on Lyme Disease: http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/
First Coast News