Lyme Disease

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In the news, one of the tabloid-famous Olsen twins, Ashley, has been diagnosed with a long-standing Lyme Disease infection. Apparently infected by a tick bite some years ago, Ashley didn’t receive treatment at the time (antibiotics are effective if used early) and is likely to suffer long-term effects.
Indeed, we’re coming upon the time of year that ticks are out in force, and giving one of these nasty little critters a ride is a bad idea if you want to stay healthy. The American dog tick carries pathogens for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, carries the microscopic parasite that’s responsible for Lyme Disease and another illness called Babesiosis. Just recently, ticks have been identified as the cause for a new illness that causes a flu-like syndrome.
What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Borrelia. The most common sign of infection is an expanding area of redness, sometimes ring-like or appearing as a bulls-eye, known as erythema migrans. It begins at the site of a tick bite about a week after it has occurred. The rash isn’t itchy, it isn’t painful, and not everyone gets it, but at least 50% do.

Other early symptoms may include fever, headache, and fatigue. If untreated, symptoms include weakened facial muscles, joint pains, neck stiffness, palpitations, and a host of others. Repeated episodes of joint pain and swelling may recur months or years later. Shooting pains or tingling in extremities may also be seen.

At this point, even with appropriate treatment, 10-20% of people have long-term ill effects. This, apparently, is what’s happening to Ashley Olsen.
Lyme Disease is most commonly seen in the Northeast, but all 50 states have reported cases. One rare bit of good news is that Lyme Disease doesn’t appear to be spread from person to person or from animals to humans.
How Do Ticks Spread Disease?

Most Lyme disease is caused by the “larval” or juvenile stages of the deer tick. These are tough to spot because they’re not much bigger than a pinhead. Each larval stage feeds only once and very slowly, usually over several days. This gives the tick’s parasites plenty of time to get into your bloodstream. The larval ticks are most active in summer; the adults are more active in cooler parts of the year, and are less likely to transmit disease.

Ticks don’t jumps like fleas do, they don’t fly like, well, flies, and they don’t drop from trees like spiders. The larvae like to live in leaf litter, and they grab your lower leg as you pass by. The adults prefer bushes, latching onto deer as they brush by (hence their name “deer tick”).

Preventing Lyme Disease
Many people don’t think to protect themselves outdoors from exposure to ticks and other things like poison ivy, and many wind up being sorry they didn’t. If you’re going to spend the day outdoors, be careful about leaving skin exposed below your knee. I know that ex-Dual Survival star Cody Lundin goes around barefooted in the woods, but that’s probably not good policy for you. Wear thick socks, and consider tucking your pants into them to prevent an avenue for the tick to reach your skin. An alternative would be good high-top boots.

Of course, a good bug repellant is going to improve your chances of avoiding bites, so always have some on hand. Citronella oil, Soybean oil, and oil of eucalyptus will also work.

When you get home from your foray into the woods, get in the shower. Not only will you improve your popularity rating with your spouse and children, but you can also take a good look at yourself to hunt for any hitchhikers. Most tick bites are painless, so they might be tricky to spot.

If you took Rover along for the walk, you should consider taking a look at him too. Same thing with the kids, Lyme disease is more common among children. Ticks can survive warm water baths, so make sure you throw your clothes in a hot dryer for a while.

How to Remove a Tick

Ok, you looked and, sure enough, there’s a tick having a meal on your body. The important thing to know is that your risk of Lyme disease or other tick-spread illness increases the longer it’s feeding on you. The good news is that there is generally no transmission of disease in the first 24 hours. After 48 hours, though, you have the highest chance of infection, so it pays to remove that tick as soon as possible.

This is the effective method: Take the finest set of tweezers you have and try to grab the tick as close to your skin as you can. Pull it straight up; this will give you the best chance of removing it intact. The mouthparts sometimes get stuck in there and that might cause an inflammation at the site of the bite. Luckily, the mouthparts won’t increase your chances of getting Lyme disease.

Afterwards, disinfect the area with Betadine, and maybe consider some antibiotic cream. I’m sure you’ve heard about other methods of tick removal, like smothering it with petroleum jelly or lighting it on fire, but no method is better than pulling it out with tweezers.

Only about 20% of deer ticks carry the Lyme disease or other parasites, so you’re probably going to be ok, even if you get bitten. But if you get a rash that sort of looks like a bulls-eye and come down with flu symptoms that just won’t go away with symptomatic relief, get to your doctor or the group medic.

Antibiotics That Treat Lyme Disease

Oral antibiotics will be useful to treat early stages. Amoxicillin 500 mg 4x/day for 14 days or Doxycycline 100mg 2x/day for 14 days should work. These medications are available without a prescription in veterinary equivalents like Fish-Mox Forte (Amoxicillin) and Bird-Biotic (Doxycycline). They can be found at this website (not associated with ours) and in various places on the internet.

Joe Alton, MD


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