Published on April 24th, 2014 | by Brett Harris
How To Protect Yourself from Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases
Two years ago my wife (then fiancé) was training six hours a day with a professional ballet company, working a part-time job, and planning our wedding. Six months later she was struck down by a debilitating illness that left her bed-ridden, in crippling pain, and suffering from severe neuropsychiatric symptoms. We are still fighting to get her health back.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that Lyme Disease — a serious bacterial infection transmitted by ticks — infects 300,000 people each year, representing nearly a 25-fold increase since national surveillance began in 1982.
Some of Lyme’s most notable victims include former U.S. President George W. Bush, Olympic athlete Angeli VanLaanen, and 30 Rock actor Alec Baldwin.
This month alone over 25,000 people will be newly infected with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Less than 50% will recall a tick bite or develop a characteristic rash. 40% will end up with long-term health problems. And 25% will be children.
Untreated Lyme disease can enter the central nervous system and every other organ system in the body, causing a diverse collection of symptoms including memory loss and cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, psychiatric problems such as anxiety and depression, fatigue, heart problems, headaches, nerve pain and tingling, arthritis, and flu-like symptoms.
A recent survey of 3,000 patients with persistent cases of Lyme Disease revealed that these patients have a poorer quality of life than those suffering from chronic cases of congestive heart failure, fibromyalgia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or depression.
These sobering facts must be balanced by the encouraging news that adequate awareness and prevention, along with quick diagnosis and treatment have proven very effective in reducing the risk of developing chronic Lyme Disease.
The bad news? Awareness, prevention, diagnosis, and proper treatment are largely ignored by the general population — including the vast majority of family doctors.
This article is our attempt to spread the word about a devastating disease that has changed our lives. Please help us by sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and emailing the link to family and friends. Lyme Disease is a serious and growing threat. We can’t afford to remain unaware.
Who Needs to Worry About Lyme Disease?
The only people who need to worry about Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses are outdoor-loving, camping fanatics who live in New England, right?
According to researchers at the University of Rhode Island, “there are more ticks in more places than ever before.” In fact, in the last ten years, ticks known to carry Lyme Disease have been identified in all 50 states and worldwide.
Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, and Indiana all share the same Tick Encounter Index: HIGH — according to TickEncounter.org. And that’s only a partial list.
The point is: No matter where you live in the United States, Canada, or Europe, you are at risk for encountering ticks carrying dangerous and even deadly diseases.
A recent report in the journal Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Diseases revealed that tick-borne pathogens are not limited to rural and suburban areas, as researchers were able to collect infected ticks in the city as well.
As the weather grows warmer, millions of ticks have already come out of hiding. Depending on where you live, experts estimate there may be hundreds or even thousands of these blood-sucking insects right in your back yard (literally).
One afternoon last summer our family found over 50 larval ticks less than five feet from our front porch! If we hadn’t been looking for them, we would never have known they were there. Larval ticks are no larger than a fleck of pepper.
It only takes one tick to change your life. That is why awareness and prevention are so important. The good news is that there are simple, concrete steps you can take to dramatically reduce your risk of exposure to Lyme and other tick-borne diseases — without having to say “goodbye” to the great outdoors and retreat to an underground bunker.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme Disease
- TICK-PROOF YOUR CLOTHES: Ticks generally start low and crawl up, either from the ground, tall grass, or shrubs. People who wear shoes and socks treated with Permethrin are 74 times less likely to be bitten by ticks than people who wear untreated shoes and socks. You can also treat your pants, shirts, hats, tents, etc. — further reducing your risk of being bitten. Clothes sent in to Insect Shield will repel ticks for 70 washings — the lifetime of the garment. Learn more at TickEncounter.org.
- IF POSSIBLE, AVOID TICK HABITAT: When on hikes or engaging in any other outdoor activity, be aware of prime tick habitat. That includes tall grass, leaf litter, and the edges of trails. Of course, certain people (e.g. landscapers, hunters, and adventure-bound children) may have trouble avoiding these areas. In those cases, treating clothing with Permethrin, checking for ticks, and other safety measures become more important.
- DO REGULAR TICK CHECKS: Even wearing tick-repellant clothing and avoiding tick habitat doesn’t completely eliminate your risk of exposure. When you come back inside, check yourself for ticks. They especially like below the belt, as well as belly-button, armpits, scalp, and around the ears. Remember, they can be smaller than a poppyseed.
- TAKE SHOWERS: Running water will wash off unattached ticks, so regular showers are a simple and extremely useful tool in protecting yourself against tick-borne diseases. However, showers will not dislodge ticks that have already attached themselves to your skin. That is why tick checks and other prevention tips are so important.
- PROTECT YOUR PETS: Dogs and cats that venture outdoors pick up more ticks than people. Not only can your pets get infected with tick-borne diseases, but they can also bring ticks inside your home. Protect yourself and your pets by using products like Certifect or K9 Avantix II.
What to do if you are bitten by a tick
If, despite these precautions. you are bitten by a tick, it is important to know how to remove the tick safely. Many folk remedies for removing ticks have proven to be ineffective and even increase your risk for infection. Never try to burn your tick, cover it with Vaseline, or simply wrench it out of your skin.
The safest way to remove a tick from your body is to use pointy tweezers (ordinary household tweezers may be too large and clunky to grasp tiny ticks). Clean the area with alcohol, then grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible and apply a slow, steady upwards pull in order to avoid breaking the tick. Once the tick is removed, disinfect the tick-bite area again with alcohol.
Save the tick in a container or bag labeled with your name, address, date, and estimated hours the tick was attached. The Tick-Borne Disease Alliance has a list of labs that will test your tick for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
When to Seek Treatment for Lyme Disease
The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) — the largest medical body focused exclusively on Lyme Disease — advises that a “wait and see” approach to treatment may be risky.
Up to fifty percent of ticks in Lyme-endemic areas are infected with Lyme or other tick-borne diseases. With odds like that, if you have proof or a high suspicion that you’ve been bitten by a tick, taking a “wait and see” approach to deciding whether to treat the disease has risks. The onset of Lyme disease symptoms can be easily overlooked or mistaken for other illnesses. Once symptoms are more evident the disease may have already entered the central nervous system, and could be hard to cure. This is one case in which an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. — ILADS.org
ILADS provides many excellent resources for anyone concerned about possible infection with Lyme Disease and considering treatment. Start with their Top 10 Tips to Prevent Chronic Lyme Disease and then download and read their Evidence-Based Guidelines for the Management of Lyme Disease. They also can connect you with an ILADS-trained doctor in your area.
Where Can I Find More Information?
- If you do nothing else, take the time to watch the award-winning Lyme documentary Under Our Skin, which is available for free on Hulu.com. It is a fascinating and thoroughly educational look at the epidemic that is sweeping the United States.
- For our friends living South of the Mason-Dixon line, take the time to read Discover Magazine’s in-depth feature on Lyme and tick-borne diseases in the South.
- Websites like ILADS.org and LymeDisease.org provide reams of valuable information regarding diagnosis and treatment of Lyme and tick-borne diseases, while TBDAlliance.org and TickEncounter.org offer helpful tips for tick-bite prevention.
- Finally, if you prefer to get your information from a book, check out Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic — winner of the American Medical Writers Association Book Award and widely considered the definitive book about Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses are a significant and growing public health threat that suffers from poor visibility and misinformation. This post is our attempt to bring greater clarity and practical solutions to the tick problem in the United States. But we need your help. This article can only help people who read it — and we believe everyone in America needs to read it. Please help us spread the word however you can. It could change someone’s life.
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