Get the Lowdown on Lyme Disease

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease is complicated. Named after the East Coast town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first discovered in 1975, it is a bacterial infection caused by an organism called Borrelia burgdorferi.  Transmission occurs by a tick (specifically a deer tick) or insect bite.  The tick, after feeding off infected deer, birds, rodents or even your pet, gets on you where it numbs your skin so you won’t feel it. It finds a dark spot such as your armpit or behind your ear, or your scalp to bite you. Depending on the season, the tick may be immature, called a nymph (which is about as big as a poppy seed). Lyme can also be transmitted by other ticks, fleas, mosquitoes and possibly even spiders.

Prevention is the best cure. Protect Yourself by:

Be aware of your environment. Take special care in moist and humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas since this is where deer ticks live. Walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation.

Cover yourself appropriately.  Use insect repellant and clothing (sun hats, long sleeve tops, long bottoms, tuck pants into socks, closed shoes) to keep ticks and other insects from biting.

Inspect yourself carefully.  Do daily tick checks after spending any time outdoors.  Be thorough and check all parts using a mirror, including:

  • Under the arms
  • In and around the ears
  • Inside the belly button
  • Back of the knees
  • In and around all head and body hair
  • Between the legs
  • Around the waist

Check your clothing, your children and your pets to prevent any ticks that might be carried into the house.  Remove ticks from clothes by putting them in the dryer. Remove any ticks from your skin you using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely low.

Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Try to keep the tick intact.

Clean the bite area afterwards using rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

What to do if you suspect you have been bitten?

If you see a “bullseye rash,” seek professional help immediately. Keep in mind, it is not always bulls-eye shaped and this rash resolves rather quickly after the tick bite.

Besides the rash, some of the first symptoms of Lyme disease may include a flu-like condition with fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, achiness and fatigue. Treatment at this point is crucial because it may help you avoid chronic Lyme. If you don’t see the tick and remove it, it can progress to ailments like arthritis, facial palsy, nervous system and heart problems and a hundred other symptoms.

Diagnosis is be complicated for many reasons. Conventional lab testing is notoriously unreliable for picking up the infection. Many species of the germ exist and the often there exists co-infections from other germs from one tick/insect bite. Only a handful of strains are currently detectable with most up to date lab science technology.

But don’t let the absence of a rash stop you from pursuing care if you suspect infection. Lyme disease presents in many different ways, and most people who are infected by it, don’t look sick and their bloodwork appears normal. Many doctors and health care practitioners are not well-versed in thorough treatment strategies. You need to be your own health advocate.

If caught early, Lyme Disease does respond to antibiotic therapy (for a minimum of 10 weeks). There are specialized lab tests that are more sensitive than conventional lab tests. Get tested and get the proper care you need from a Lyme literate health care provider. Lyme Disease is too serious to not be taken seriously.

Tasleem Kassam