The CDC states that it does not know how many people contract Lyme Disease each year in the United States. Their estimates are between 300,000 and 1 million new cases per year, the majority of which are unreported. This makes Lyme Disease the fastest growing vector-borne infectious disease in the U.S.
When you consider that in 2013 there were 234,000 cases of breast cancer in the US and we hear so much about it… it’s high time we started educating and heeding the message about Lyme Disease and prevention.
First, it’s important to know that when people say “Lyme Disease” they are generally referring to a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi (Bb). The means of infection is by bite from the deer tick. Baby deer ticks called nymphs are the size of a poppy seed and can transmit this bacteria. What many people are unaware of is that there are about a dozen other infections one can get from a single tick bite. Anaplasmosis, Babesia, Bartonella, Erlichia, Mycoplasma, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to name a few. They all cause different symptoms and work together to take over the immune system.
While Lyme Disease was first identified in Lyme Connecticut, Pennsylvania is the state reporting the most cases of Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases. They are our neighbor so you can imagine here in New Jersey we can’t be far behind.
It’s crucial that you know that a tick bite may or may not give you a bulls-eye rash. Only about a third of patients remember a tick bite and less than half developed a rash.
If you develop that classic bulls-eye rash it’s actually good news. Most doctors will give you a Lyme test and start you on 21 days of Doxycycline. Bad news is that Lyme testing as it stands is highly inaccurate and no one has proven that 21 days of doxycycline takes care of all of the bacteria. That said, I have talked to plenty of folks who were bitten, got the rash, did 21 days of meds and haven’t had a problem since. Where it gets tricky is when you get a bite, no rash, don’t know it, think you have the flu and then never really get over that flu which then develops into other symptoms like arthritis, GI problems, chronic headaches, or muscle pain. This is what happened to me. When this happens a patient goes from doctor to doctor searching for answers, getting blood tests, CAT Scans, biopsies, ultrasounds and the like until the doctors tell you they can’t find anything wrong with you and suggest drugs like Prozac or Xanax or give you the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Save yourself and your family from this tragic diagnosis and consider the following ways to protect yourself against Tick Borne Diseases.
- Change your behavior: We aren’t suggesting you stay inside all Spring but we ask you to be more careful about where you go. High brush and grasses are where you’ll likely come in contact with a tick. Keep your family in the yard, or on a dirt trail when hiking. When camping watch out for shady areas as ticks hate direct sunlight and tend to gather in the shade. Putting in a jungle-gym for the kids? You might think of not putting it under that canopy of trees but choose a northern spot with bright light. And ALWAYS do a total-body tick check, including your hair, when you get home. Ticks love warm spots like the groin, behind the ears and in the arm pits. Remember, many of these ticks are the size of a POPPY seed so you’ll need to look carefully. Better yet, if you have access to a shower after spending time in the grass, grab a wash cloth and scrub away.
- Dress smarter: When hiking or camping in potential tick hot spots, reduce your risk by wearing long pants and long sleeves, preferably in white or light colors. Tuck pant legs into socks so ticks can’t crawl up your leg. Hats are a must as a tick bite on your head would be difficult to spot.
- Use repellents on your skin. Tick repellents containing the chemical DEET are helpful for walks, camping, or gardening.
- Treat your shoes and clothing too. Products containing Permethin can be sprayed directly on shoes, socks, pants, shirts and hats (but never on skin) and lasts for a few washes. So pick out some “outdoor” clothes and spray them down. Always wear these clothes for your hike or yardwork and you will have an added layer of protection.
- Treat your yard. Many landscaping companies are now offering tick protections. Kupek’s in Pennington offers an all-natural garlic based solution they spray on your yard once a month that deters deer and rodents. Other companies have natural solutions that actually kill the ticks. And if you’re afraid of this kind of solution get yourself a half-dozen chickens or guinea fowl. They love to eat ticks.
- De-tick your clothes. Anytime we spend a good amount of time in the yard or on a hike we all come in the house, strip down and put our clothes in the dryer on high for 20 minutes—it’s enough time to kill any ticks before they have the chance to get to your skin or furniture. Then a nice warm shower with a good scrub is in order.
- Pet Checks! Ticks love your pup or kittycat’s warm thighs, ears, and belly. If your pet is a lover of long walks in the woods, protect him and your home with a prescription-strength preventative tick killer (like Frontline or K9 Advantix) or look into a Preventic collar which paralyzes ticks and keeps them from latching on. If you live in a high-risk area, be vigilant about checking your pet after every walk. And certainly don’t let your pet sleep in bed with you especially in April, May and June when ticks are hatching and looking for sources of food.
- Remove ticks safely. Gently grab the tick by its head or mouth, where they enter the skin, with fine point tweezers and pull it away from your skin in a steady motion. Don’t squeeze or twist, as you could release Lyme-containing bacteria into your skin. Put it in a jar of alcohol to kill it or put it in a Ziploc bag with a moistened cotton ball if you want it tested – yep, they do that here in New Jersey. Check out http://www.tickchek.com for more information. They actually test the tick for diseases so you will know which ones you might have been infected with.
- Know the symptoms. Did you know less than half of infected patients report developing a circular, sometimes oval-shaped, red rash. It starts as a small red spot at the site of the tick bite and often appears as a “bull’s-eye” rash with a red ring surrounding a clear area with a red center. Other symptoms to watch out for are fever, headache, stiff neck, fatigue, and body aches, which can occur anywhere from three to 30 days after the bite.
- Get tested…but be aware that CDC and FDA approved two tier testing (ELISA followed by Western Blot) for the antibodies created by a Lyme patient is less than 50% accurate. Ask your doctor to send your bloodwork to Medical Diagnostic Lab in Hamilton, NJ ( http://www.mdlab.com )for 3-tier PCR/Western Blot/ELISA testing. A Lyme diagnosis is a clinical diagnosis based on signs and symptoms and does not require a positive Lyme test to start treatment. You’ll need to make sure your Dr. is Lyme Literate (LLMD) and they are hard to come by. To find a LLMD near you visit ILADS.org. Also, it is important to note that MDLab will also test you for associated Tick Born Diseases (Babesia, Bartonella, Mycoplasma, Erlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Be safe out their neighbors. As today is World Lyme Day and awareness is the first step in prevention please share this information with those that you love.
Your in Health,
-Founder, PrincetonScoop & Lyme Disease Warrior
**Please note I am not a medical doctor, just a patient with a passion to help others avoid this chronic disease.