Little Tick, Big Problem
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month
As spring and summer begin, we anxiously venture out to enjoy the warm weather, the longer days, and endless outdoor adventures. As we are busy enjoying many outdoor activities, we may not think about our exposure to a very small culprit, who can pose a serious potential health risk to each of us if we don’t use precautions.
These culprits are known as ticks. The most common species of ticks in the U.S. include the Deer tick, American Dog tick, Brown Dog tick, Black-legged tick, and the Lone Star tick. They typically live in wooded areas, brush, and long grass and can be active year round but most active during the warmer months. They are able to detect animals’ breath, body heat, moisture and vibrations. They seek out these signs and cling to animals and humans as they pass by and then feed on the blood of these hosts. They can carry a variety of bacteria, which can infect their host and be passed on from one host to another, causing a number of diseases including Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease has been identified since 1977 but unless you live in one of the north eastern states where Lyme is more prevalent, you may not know much about it. It is now found throughout the U.S. and the CDC estimates that 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme each year. Personally, I had heard of the disease in the past but didn’t know much about it until I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2012. Since my diagnosis, I have personally met at least a dozen people just in Bozeman, Montana who have the disease, some of whom contracted the Lyme in Montana where we used to think it didn’t exist. It has become much more prevalent than many people may be aware of. This is why it is so important to know the early signs of Lyme so it can be treated quickly and prevent it from turning into a chronic long term disease with more serious complications.
If you are bit by a tick, the best way to remove it is with a pair of tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin and mouth as possible and then pull straight off with steady pressure. Then thoroughly wash the area and be sure there are no remnants of the tick still in the skin. Within the first month of being bit, you will want to watch for symptoms of infection such as a red “bull’s eye” rash, flu-like symptoms, fever, headache, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes. If you experience any of these, you should see a Doctor and get tested for Lyme, which is a simple blood test. If caught early enough, it can be treated with a round of antibiotics.
If one does not recognize or experience the early symptoms of the infection and it is left untreated, the bacteria is able to move through the blood stream and settle throughout the body causing a long term infection of late stage, also known as, Chronic Lyme disease. This can lead to much more serious health issues and is much harder to diagnose and treat. Chronic Lyme disease symptoms can mimic the symptoms of many other diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc. The list of symptoms is endless and can vary person to person, depending on where the bacteria settles in the body. Symptoms may include but are not limited to joint pain and inflammation, nerve pain, numbness in arms, legs and face, heart palpitations, “brain fog”, extreme fatigue, etc. Often times, people suffering from Chronic Lyme Disease are misdiagnosed with other diseases because Lyme can mimic so many other diseases and the symptoms are so broad. Before my diagnosis, based on my symptoms, they thought that I was suffering from MS. Thankfully, I was able to find a Lyme literate Doctor who recognized the symptoms and was able to do the proper blood tests to find out it was in fact Lyme disease.
In order to protect ourselves from ticks and the diseases they can spread, we must take proper precautions when enjoying the great outdoors. These include:
- Use insect repellants containing deet or natural alternatives on skin and clothing.
- Wear light color clothing so they are easier to spot.
- Do a full body inspection after being outdoors
- Check your gear and dogs before bringing them indoors
- Shower as soon as possible when returning home
- Wash and dry the worn clothes thoroughly
May is Lyme Disease awareness month and I would love to help spread some awareness for this disease. For more information on Lyme Disease, check out lymedisease.org. There is also a very informative documentary about Chronic Lyme Disease called “Under Our Skin,” which can be streamed online. If anyone has questions about the disease, treatment, Lyme Literate doctors, etc., feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.