Melissa’s Rap: May is Lyme disease awareness month. This disease has greatly impacted me and my family, as I was diagnosed CDC-positive with Lyme on Cinco de Mayo 2011. I spent the next two years treating with IV antibiotics, oral antibiotics, herbs, supplements and other treatments. To this day, I see effects of the disease in my low immune function, brain fog, and fatigue. Now that I know what I know about Lyme and its coinfections (Lyme rarely travels alone), I am diligent about prevention and work to educate others about how to prevent this debilitating disease.
According to Lymedisease.org: “Lyme disease is a bacterial infection primarily transmitted by Ixodes ticks, also known as deer ticks, and on the West Coast, black-legged ticks. These tiny arachnids are typically found in wooded and grassy areas. Although people may think of Lyme as an East Coast disease, it is found throughout the United States, as well as in more than sixty other countries.”
You may have heard more about Lyme in recent years, because in 2013, the CDC admitted the number of those afflicted was ten times the numbers previously stated. Doctors who are in the trenches treating this disease had been saying that for years. It was a small victory for Lyme-sufferers who were previously accused of being ignorant and irresponsible when they would voice their mind in hopes of educating as a means of prevention.
Perhaps everything you’ve heard about Lyme disease makes you wish you lived in a bubble. I totally get it. That’s exactly how I feel, as a mom and as a person who has battled this horrible disease. So, today I want to talk about prevention and, since prevention isn’t always possible, how to remove ticks safely. It is important to note that many other insects have been found to carry the dangerous spirochete bacteria as well, including mosquitoes, flies, mites, fleas and spiders. The purpose of this post focuses on tick prevention and removal, but if you’ve been bit by any of these, it is still important to watch for flu-like symptoms, fatigue, a rash, or any other unusual symptoms that come up and won’t go away.
We can’t stay inside forever! So, it is important to know how to protect yourself when going outside. Here are a few things you can do to help prevent picking up a tick: Keep hair pulled back and whenever possible, wear a hat. Wear light colors so that you can see a tick if it gets on your clothing. Wear long pants, tucking them into your socks, and wear long sleeves whenever possible. Wear an insect repellent on your clothes, as well as your skin. Some repellents can be pretty toxic, so be sure to research your options. In my research, I found many recommendations for Permethrin, which is supposed to be effective and safer than Deet, but still very toxic.
Avoid wooded areas, keep your hard free of leaves, weeds and debris and keep your lawn cut short. Use wood chips or rocks to keep your property separated from wooded areas. Keep garbage cans tightly closed to keep disease-carrying animals and rodents away from your home. There are pesticides you can use on your lawn to prevent ticks, but again, do your research before choosing one because toxic chemicals aren’t good for you either! I have included a map to the left that I found online which illustrates landscaping ideas to reduce tick activity and exposure.
Check for Ticks
Whenever you come in from the outdoors, you should do a self-exam to make sure you did not pick up a tick. Ticks come in a variety of sizes, anywhere from as large as a pencil eraser or so small you can barely see it. They will often crawl to warm, moist places like the hair, armpits and groin, so pay special attention when checking these areas. Also, the family pet could pick up ticks easily and bring them into your home. If you are a pet owner, you should check your pet frequently for ticks. It is important to do these these checks daily, because the longer the tick is attached, the greater the chance of infection. Tick collars are available for family pets from from your veterinarian.
Just to be safe, take a shower shortly after you return indoors. This should dislodge any ticks quickly and easily. Also, you should throw your clothes into the dryer and run them on high heat. This will kill off any ticks. Washing them is not enough.
If you have been bit by a tick, you may have received plenty of advice from others on how to deal with it, including plenty of wrong ways to remove it, like heating it with a lighter or smothering it with petroleum jelly or nail polish. These options are dangerous and ineffective in preventing the transfer of the dangerous bacteria a tick can carry.
Pointy tweezers, not blunt-edged are best for tick removal (see an example pictured to the right.) you can find them at most drugstores. If you spend a lot of time outdoors or are planning a camping trip or hike, I recommend picking up a pair.
To properly remove a tick, use pointy tweezers to gently grab the head, or as close as you can to the head. Do not squeeze! Do not twist! Just gently apply pressure and pull up very slowly. Here is an excellent video showing the proper removal of a tick.
Lyme is known as the great imitator because the symptoms mimic many other diseases and syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, autism, ALS, arthritis, chronic fatigue and more. Dr. Burrascano, a leading Lyme doctor in the U.S. developed this extensive list of symptoms one could experience with chronic Lyme. Initial symptoms may include: flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, joint pain, headache, depression and fever. Since these symptoms can be applied to many illnesses, the correct diagnosis is often missed. Meanwhile, the bacteria buries deeper and deeper into the tissue, causing problems with the nervous system, joints, heart, brain and more. It becomes very difficult to treat at this point, so early detection is key.
Misdiagnosis and Advanced Lyme Disease
It is not uncommon for people to be unaware that they were even bit by a tick. Some people will see an erythema migrans, or round rash that expands outward, but many won’t. This is why many, many people become chronically ill and don’t know what is happening to them. That was the case for me.
If Lyme Disease is caught quickly, it is treatable. If it is left untreated, people become very sick and it becomes exceedingly difficult to treat. Please spread the word so that others can learn how they can prevent Lyme Disease.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has Lyme Disease and you would like to get tested, contact your Primary Physician. If he or she refuses to test, which many doctors do, contact the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society or LymeDisease.org to request a list of Lyme doctors in your area. These organizations will recommend a doctor that is Lyme-friendly and Lyme-literate.
Finally, the award-winning documentary, Under Our Skin, is an interesting and eye-opening look at this disease and the controversies behind it. You can catch it on YouTube, or Amazon Prime members can watch it there. Please let me know if you have any questions. I am here to help in any way I can.
Have you been diagnosed with Lyme or has someone you know battled the disease?
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