As outdoor enthusiasts, gardeners, dog walkers, and even just grass loungers we are all faced with a new and difficult dilemma. Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses are becoming more and more common in our area and around the country. If you have questions or fears about Lyme disease and ticks, then you are not alone.
If you live in New England, it is likely that you either know someone, have a family member, or are personally experiencing the devastating effects of Lyme Disease when it goes untreated. How can we stay safe, keep our children safe and continue to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors? In this article, I offer some suggestions along with an updated overview of the testing and treatments for Lyme disease. One thing to be certain of is that prevention is key and maintaining diligence to the proper protocols could save you or a family member's quality of life. Early detection and treatment is the most important factor in prognosis!
Lyme Disease is the illness that results from an infection by a Borrelia species of bacteria most commonly, Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are typically transmitted to humans by ticks. Currently the deer (black-legged) tick is the most recognized vector by the CDC to carry Borrelia b. in this area of the country, but there is increasing evidence that other ticks may be infected, as well as fleas and mosquitoes. Deer ticks are known to travel and reproduce on large animals but the Borrelia bacteria is transmitted by ticks that feed on by a number of animals including mice, birds, and other small rodents. Ticks have been known to prefer weather between 50 and 70 degrees and damp areas but can be found in the heat of August, along the beaches in the grass, and can even survive in winter time. There have been a variety of cases of people getting tick bites while there is still snow on the ground!
Prevention is key! Keeping your yard free of debris, piles of damp leaves, trimming undergrowth, and keeping a low-mowed lawn can minimize ticks in your yard. A barrier of bark mulch or even a fence can also be helpful in keeping ticks in the surrounding woods and out of the grass where your children play. Chickens and especially Guinea hens love eating ticks and can be great scavengers for ticks in your yard and in the surrounding woods. I was once told that one Guinea hen could consume hundreds of ticks per day!
Unfortunately your furry friends, such as dogs and outdoor cats, increase exposure if they are free to roam in the brush or the woods. The ticks will grab hold of their fur and be carried into the yard, the house, and near you and your children. Keeping a strong tick insecticide on your animal, that you can buy from your vet (although may be toxic to you or your children if directly touched) is the best way to keep your pets and your home tick-free. Also, brushing your pet regularly is very important as most of the insecticides do not repel ticks at this time and they can still be found crawling on animals hours after they have entered the house. Keep pets out of your bedroom and your children's bedrooms during tick season to prevent tick bites during the night while you are sleeping which is very common.
Some Lyme specialists in the area recommend using chemicals such as permethrin to repel ticks. Permethrin has been used by the army to repel insects for many years and is typically sprayed on clothing-NOT on the skin for this particular use. Permethrin is used to treat scabies and head lice and is neurotoxic to insects and animals in the wild. Although in the past I would be very hard-pressed to recommend such a chemical especially for children's clothing, I am starting to see that the effects of Lyme may make this kind of approach worth it. I recommend looking into the toxicity of anything that you use on yourself, your children, or your clothing and use it properly. Also, you can have a company that specializes in tick removal, spray your yard with a tick insecticide such as pyrethrin. There are both natural/organic and synthetic forms of pyrethrin. Look into which is best for your use and contact a professional for more details!
From a more natural perspective, spraying essential oils such as Eucalyptus, Thyme, Tea Tree, and Neem oil on your clothes and body, although lacking supporting research, has been reported to repel ticks. However, natural and chemical insecticides are no replacement for diligent showering, changing of clothes, and frequent daily "tick checks" throughout the spring and fall seasons when ticks are at their height of activity. Wearing long pants and tucking them into your socks will prevent ticks from climbing up into your pants from your shoes. Long shirts and hats are also helpful as ticks can grab on directly to your hair when walking through trees and shrubs.
When going for a hike in the woods and returning to your car bring an extra change of clothing for you and your children for the ride home and bag up your outdoor clothing. When your family returns to the house from playing in the yard have your children strip down their clothes outside and get directly in the shower or tub. This is the best way to ensure ticks are not brought into the house and are washed out of hard to see areas like hair. Remember to check your child's groin, anal area, behind the ears, armpits, and hairline for ticks, as they are favorite areas for ticks to hide.
What to do if you find a tick? Begin by not panicking. Do not squeeze the tick as the contents within it may be more likely to enter your blood stream. Using a pair of tweezers try to pull the tick off of the skin directly at the point in which it is connected. SAVE THE TICK! Put the tick into a plastic sealed bag with a small piece of moist paper towel. You can either call our office at (603) 592-5575 and schedule an appointment to have the tick dropped off for testing or contact a tick testing center yourself such as UMass Extension Tick Diagnostic Lab at (413) 545-1055, website: www.umass.edu/tick.
Testing the tick for Lyme disease can be helpful in determining your course of treatment, especially in hard to treat populations such as pregnant and lactating women and children. Just because a tick has bitten you does not mean that you will develop Lyme disease but your chances of exposure in many New England areas are quite high. Although, the CDC states that a tick must be attached for 24-48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, positive Lyme tests and clinical symptoms suggest otherwise and I think that we will see changes in this recommendation in the future. My medical belief is that herbal anti-microbials and immune support and/or pharmaceutical antibiotics can be preventative of chronic and disseminated Lyme disease and should be instituted immediately in exposed individuals who have no complicating factors. The sooner you institute treatment after exposure the more likely you are to prevent Lyme disease from occurring completely.
What tests are available? The most common Lyme tests that your healthcare provider may likely order is either a PCR or Western Blot test. The sensitivity of these Lyme tests is not really known and many practitioners are starting to think that the sensitivity is so low that they tend not to be very useful in diagnosis. Some testing centers are beginning to develop new and more advanced testing methods, which I have seen in practice to have a higher sensitivity. If you are concerned that you have Lyme disease, consider more advanced testing and contact our office at (603) 592-5575 or see a Lyme specialist in your area.
What are the symptoms of Lyme? Joint pain, muscle pain, forgetfulness, unexplained rashes, brain fog, irritability, headaches, muscle weakness, and fatigue are all common symptoms of Lyme sufferers. Less then 40% of people who contract the disease will see a bulls-eye rash. The bacteria have an incredible way of evading the immune system both making it difficult to test and actually decreasing your immune responses to other viruses and fungus over time. Because of this patients with Lyme often have a myriad of other infections.
How do we treat Lyme disease? Lyme treatment can be as simple and easy as a short course of antibiotics and immune support if it is caught very early. The later it is diagnosed and treated the more complicated treatment can get. Herbal anti-microbials, immune support, probiotics, and detoxification are all part of a good well-rounded protocol. Many times pharmaceutical antibiotics are instituted either orally or IV for extra progress. The most important part of treatment is that you feel better and trust your clinician.
Lyme is a bad bug. Unfortunately we, in this area are at a very high risk of contracting it. Luckily, it is preventable with a strong immune system and treatable with a good combination of natural and conventional treatments.
Please contact The Luna Center for Natural Health at (603) 592-5575 or a Lyme specialist in your area for additional information, especially if you suspect that you or someone you know may have received a tick bite. Stay safe and enjoy the outdoors!