Lyme Disease: Fact and Fiction

Summer and Fall are seasons to enjoy the wonders of nature, and many outdoor activities.  It is wise however, to be proactive in the battle of the bugs.  One of our biggest challenges is the dreaded tick, a formidable foe for both animals and humans.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can affect every organ of the body, and can occur every season of the year.  Cases have been reported in all 50 States, the Northeast region being one of the most concentrated zones in the country.

We have compiled helpful information from reputable organizations, so you can understand the basics, and continue to enjoy Mother Nature.

Important Facts and Misconceptions

At the onset, Lyme can be mistaken as the flu, but it has serious potential to evolve into a multi-system disease.  As the illness progresses, Lyme can affect and disrupt major system functions, including cardiac, musculoskeletal, and neurological operations.  Some studies even show up to 50% of those tested receiving “false negative” results.  Therefore, early and correct identification of the illness is imperative.

There is much controversy and uncertainty surrounding Lyme disease and diagnosis.  The symptoms are commonly confused with many other illnesses, such as arthritis, anxiety, chronic fatigue, ADHD, fibromyalgia, even Alzheimer’s.  Lyme can also occur with other illnesses simultaneously, therefore quite difficult to identify.  Lyme is dangerous because it takes many shapes, forms, and disguises, and can mimic other illnesses – causing patients to visit multiple doctors in search of a proper diagnosis.

Many are aware of the typical “Bull’s-eye” rash, usually indicating Lyme disease.  However according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), less than half of those affected report noticing this abrasion.  In addition, as little as 1 in 10 cases of Lyme are actually reported each year.  Rashes from contact can vary greatly, and commonly appear as other bug, or spider bites.

Recognize the Signs/Symptoms

Patients can experience a wide range of symptoms, and sometimes these symptoms may come and go.  Each person’s susceptibility varies – those affected may experience*:

  • Anxiety
  • “Bulls-eye” or other skin rash
  • Chest Pain
  • Depression
  • Difficulty with Memory or Concentration
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle Aches or Discomfort
  • Numbness or Tingling Sensations
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Stiff Neck
  • Sleep Disturbance or Insomnia
  • Swelling of Knees and other large joints
  • Vision disruption

 

* this list is not inclusive of all possible side effects, but will hopefully assist you with pinpointing common warning signs.

Tick Removal

Tick checks should be practiced not only after visiting densely wooded areas, but after every outdoor activity –  dog walking, picnics and cookouts, open-air festivals, ball games, etc.  Ticks live in any area with grass or vegetation – in fact, many are affected in their own backyards.  Although ticks are easy to spot on short haired dogs, many humans find ticks after outdoor exposure, after the insect has established a location in the scalp, clothing and shoes, or other less noticeable locations.

The best way to remove a tick is by using fine point tweezers.  A big NO NO is to use rubbing alcohol or any other substance prior to tick removal.  This actually causes the tick to retract, increasing the possibility of  emitting the infection.  Pull swiftly, but carefully – It is highly advised to see your doctor if the entire tick cannot be extracted.  Wash your hands; disinfect the tweezers and abrasion site with alcohol, or similar disinfectant.  The bigger the tick’s enlargement, the better the chances are for contracting Lyme.  If unsure, call your doctor to determine if testing is necessary.

Treatment

Treatment is most effective in the early stages, so proper identification of Lyme Disease is essential.  Be sure to receive a clinical diagnosis – one that combines a blood test with important family history.  There is no “across-the-board” remedy for Lyme; in other words, it must be addressed on a case by case basis.

The infection is primarily addressed with antibiotics for several weeks, by pill form or intravenously, depending on its stage of progression.  Some doctors are practicing holistic treatments as well.  Studies have learned that women infected during pregnancy most likely result in no negative effects on the fetus if the mother receives appropriate antibiotic treatment for her Lyme disease.

It is discouraged to take the “wait and see” approach.  Lyme is aggressive, so once the symptoms are more evident, the disease my have already entered the central nervous system, thus making it very difficult to cure.

Prevention

There is no known cure-all for Lyme Disease, and no human vaccine is currently available for prevention.

Several repellants (such as DEET) can be used as deterrents, but cannot guarantee 100% prevention. Over the counter pills may also act as deterrents.  Progress has been made though, in veterinary medicine – A new vaccine for dogs is now available at most animal hospitals.  However, it must be administered by a hospital staff member, and is used for prevention vs. remedy – reaching the bloodstream before the ticks do.

It is hard to consider wearing long sleeves and long pants during the warmer months, but if you are planning an outdoor activity in an area likely to harbor ticks, it is recommended.  Tuck your pant legs into your shoes as well, and try to avoid those tempting shortcuts that take you through high grasses, less traveled footpaths, etc.

Here are a few suggestions to practice regularly:

  • Perform frequent and thorough tick checks
  • Wear light colored clothes
  • Put clothes in dryer for 30 minutes to kill ticks
  • Apply Skin Products, lotions, or aerosols with DEET
  • Permethrin treated clothes – protects against ticks, but not 100% guaranteed.
  • Treat your lawns and backyards, but check on safety for children and animals

Most Importantly:  Do what you can to prevent Lyme, but don’t let the ticks prevent you from enjoying your time outdoors with loved ones, and beloved pooches!

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by Kristen Lykke, Freelance Writer and GoodDogz.org Committee Member