Discussing Lyme Disease

This week’s column was written by Paul Hexler. Please visit paulhetzlernature.org for hundreds of articles on trees and critters. His book of nature essays is at https://www.amazon.com/dp/099860609X

May is Lyme Disease Awareness month and despite the recent cold weather, deer ticks are active and they present a very serious risk to anyone who works, gardens, hunts or plays outside.

Deer ticks are arachnids, in the same family as spiders – smaller, but far more dangerous. They are known to vector Lyme disease and a slew of appetizing scourges, including babesiosis, erlichiosis, anaplasmosis, Powassan virus and more. It’s fairly common for a tick to transmit multiple diseases at the same time.

Our understanding of tick-borne illness has changed drastically in the past few years. The red expanding “bull’s-eye” rash, once considered the hallmark of Lyme, is actually rare, occurring in fewer than 20% of Lyme cases.

In 2014, the New York State Department of Health commissioned a tick study in four northern New York state counties. It concluded that about 50% of ticks were infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete bacterium that causes Lyme.

Clothing and footwear can be treated with 0.5% permethrin. Although I am not a fan of pesticides in general, I can’t say enough about how effective permethrin is. It not only repels ticks, it kills them within minutes.

Another great thing is that it’s a once or twice per season application – it is reported to stay effective through at least 20 wash cycles. Always follow label instructions – permethrin is 2,250 times more toxic to ticks than to mammals, but it’s still a pesticide.

Treat your pets regularly with a systemic anti-tick product and/or tick collar so they don’t bring deer ticks into the home. Talk to your vet about getting your pets vaccinated against Lyme.

Check for ticks after every outdoor outing. They prefer hard-to-see places such as the armpits, groin, scalp, and the backs of the knees. Also look closely at the beltline, bra line and sock hem – they like to tuck into the edge of clothing.

If you find a tick has latched onto you, the CDC recommends grasping it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight up until it releases. You may have to pull hard if it has been feeding for some time. Use steady pressure – no sudden motions.

Do not use heat, petroleum jelly, essential oils or other home remedies – please! These treatments may get a tick to release, but they will also make it disgorge the entire contents of its gut into your bloodstream. Unless you want a disease injection, remove ticks the proper way.

Please note that mouthpart fragments usually remain in your skin afterward. This is not a problem, and will not increase the risk of illness. Apply a topical antibiotic – your body will expel the fragments.

While it was once thought ticks did not transmit Lyme until they had been attached for 36 to 48 hours, experts now say that while you definitely have 24 hours, beyond that you are at risk. But other illnesses can be transmitted within minutes.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease vary widely – wildly – from person to person. Early Lyme effects may include severe headache, chills, fever, extreme fatigue, joint pain, night sweats or dizziness. But the first signs could be heart palpitations. Lyme may present with sudden and marked confusion as its first symptom. Too many times it has been mistaken for dementia, and has also been misdiagnosed as depression, and even schizophrenia.

If you’ve been bitten by a deer tick and have any such symptoms, call a doctor right away. Prompt treatment is critical – Lyme can cause irreversible arthritis, cardiac impairment, or neurological damage. Most people respond well to treatment, but a few may take months, sometimes more than a year, to recover. It’s a shame how little is known about “Post-Lyme Syndrome” or “Chronic Lyme” beyond that they may involve autoimmune responses, and they devastate the lives of those afflicted.

An important point is that the Lyme titer or Western blot test is NOT a yes-or-no assay.

Also, the Western blot is known to have at least a 36% false-negative rate (Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases, 07/2008). And according to lymedisease.org, “56% of patients with Lyme disease test negative using the two-tiered testing system recommended by the CDC. (Stricker 2007)”

To recap, deer ticks can mess up your life in a big way. Use permethrin on clothes and shoes, check for ticks daily and remove them promptly. Very few Lyme cases involve a rash, and symptoms can be all over the map. Find a doctor who will treat you based on clinical presentation, because testing is unreliable, to put it nicely.

For lots more great information, peruse the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation website at https://canlyme.com/

Reach Bob Beyfuss at rlb14@cornell.edu.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Tags

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.