For Linda Quinn, 61, a former veterinary technician, life in rural Farmville, Va., was just what she and her husband, a former housing inspector, had dreamed of when they left the suburbs of Washington, D.C. They had a horse, a cat, dogs and, they soon learned, a whole lot of ticks.
While the speck-size insects ignored Joe, they gravitated to Quinn, who grew used to plucking the “voracious little buggers” off her clothing or exposed skin after a walk or trip to the barn. She also got used to the inevitable reaction a few hours after a tick bite, when the bite would become swollen and ferociously itchy. But the symptoms always subsided.
In 2006 Quinn began experiencing frightening episodes that seemed related to visits to the barn. At first she thought it might be a reaction to hay or mold. Giant itchy red hives would suddenly appear from her neck to her knees. Sometimes she would have difficulty breathing and would become dizzy, her normally high blood pressure once plummeting as dangerously low as 86/60.
Neither Quinn nor her doctor had any idea what was causing these episodes. Doctors would give her epinephrine and Benadryl to counteract the symptoms, wait for them to subside, then send her home. After several months it became clear that the episodes were becoming more violent and more frequent.