Spring Is Here And So Are Ticks: Are You Prepared?
As the days get longer and warmer, most of us will be spending more time outdoors. Whether you're a gardener, a hiker or just enjoy spending time in your yard, it's important to know about the risk of tick-borne diseases like Lyme and how to protect yourself and your family.
They're Bad and They're Nationwide
Ticks are everywhere and Lyme disease is now a nationwide problem. In fact, ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found throughout the world. The infections they carry can wreak havoc with your health and the CDC estimates that there are now 34 new cases of Lyme disease per hour in the United States.
One of the things that makes them so bad is their size. The type of ticks that transmit Lyme disease and other illnesses are the size of a poppy seed when young and only reach the size of a sesame seed as an adult. And they can crawl all over you without your noticing it. Add to that the difficulty of diagnosing Lyme disease and you have a big threat to your health.
The Great Imitator
While some people who contract Lyme disease get a rash, that's not always the case. Only 35-60% of those diagnosed with Lyme have had a rash - be it the classic bull's eye rash or another form of skin rash - and less than 50% even recall a tick bite. Lyme disease is often called the great imitator due to the myriad of symptoms accompanying it which can mimic other illnesses. Joint pain, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, headaches, cognitive dysfunction, depression and cardiac rhythm disturbances are just a few of the symptoms reported by patients suffering from Lyme.
To complicate things further, there are numerous strains of Borrelia (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) and several other co-infections (Anaplasmosis, Babesia, Erhlichia, and Bartonella) that can be transmitted by a tick bite. A number of diagnostic blood tests are available, but there exists no definitive test for Lyme disease. And, depending upon the sensitivity of the test and the state of a person's immune system, false negative results are possible.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
What makes these ticks so very bad is that unrecognized Lyme disease or undertreatment of it and other tickborne infections can lead to severely debilitating, chronic illness. That's why it's so important to protect yourself and your family when you're active outdoors. Here are a few key things you should do:
Wear long-sleeved clothing, tuck your pants into your socks and use an effective tick-repellent spray. Remember, ticks can be found wherever there is grass and other vegetation.
Check yourself and your family thoroughly for ticks and tick bites after spending time outdoors.
Check your pets for ticks and use tick prevention on them, too.
Minimize the chance of having ticks in your yard by keeping your lawn cut short and bushes pruned. Organic insecticides are also available to use on areas where people are most likely to come into contact with ticks - namely, the perimeter of your yard.
Make your yard unwelcoming for tick-carrying animals like mice and deer by planting undesirable plants, using deer repellent and moving woodpiles away from areas you use regularly.
If you find a tick on yourself: be sure to remove it correctly by grabbing the head of the tick with tweezers and steadily pull upward. Do not touch the tick with your fingers, but place the tick directly in a plastic bag and then freeze it for later testing. Properly removing a tick can help prevent transmission of the disease, so check out a tick removal video such as the one from the International Lyme And Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). Be sure to clean the affected area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water, wash your hands thoroughly, and contact your health care practitioner.
Educate yourself about Lyme disease and be alert for signs of it, especially if you experience flu-like symptoms in the summer or early fall. A handy Tick Card with information on the signs of Lyme Disease and proper tick removal is available from the Lyme Disease Association. When it comes to dealing with ticks, remember Ben Franklin's adage: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.
~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord & Nantucket, Massachusetts ~