Here in New England, we all know we’re ground zero for tick infestation and Lyme disease (see map below). Some smart tips for tick prevention and early treatment, however, can prevent the dreaded Lyme disease, which causes a myriad of symptoms from a rash to unusual for summer flu-like symptoms and joint pains.
What is Lyme disease?
A bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease and is transmitted by the bite of a tiny deer tick that carries the bacteria. While this is the most common bacteria transmitted, there are many other tick born diseases with equally exotic names such as Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Erlichlosis, Powassan, Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis, and other emerging diseases.
How can I keep from contracting Lyme disease?
When out enjoying nature, avoid brushing against tall grasses where ticks love to hang out. Be sure to stick to dirt paths when hiking. Wear light colors, long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks when you’re out gardening or doing yardwork. Save the luxe-smelling, all-natural, essential oil bug repellant for the mosquitoes at the back yard barbecues and outdoor summer parties and use a heavy duty tick repellant sprayed on clothing if you’re spending lots of time in a tick-heavy location.
My favorite tick repellant is Permethrin. It’s over 2250 times more toxic to ticks than to humans and it safe to use in pregnancy since it’s Class B (showing no harm on fertility or fetus). While I would advise spraying it on clothing (it lasts at least several washes!), it’s reassuring to know that when put directly on your skin, less than 1% of active ingredient is absorbed into the body while DEET can be absorbed at over 20 times that rate!
Spray Permethrin directly on your shoes and clothing and you’ll be well protected. You can find my favorite Permethrin spray at REI or on Amazon.
If I get bit, will I definitely get Lyme?
Maybe not. To contract Lyme, the infected tick must remain attached to your skin for 24-48 hours. Other bacteria can infect you more quickly, but it’s rare. Get in the habit of doing a pre-bed tick check on yourself and family members (including furry family members).
If you find a tick, use a pair of tweezers and pull the entire tick off of you as soon as possible. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Next, keep an eye on the area over the next few weeks.
The notorious expanding rash known as a “bullseye rash” can occur at the site of the tick bite 3-30 days after exposure. More commonly, a uniformly red rash 2-3 inches or larger can occur at the site of tick bite. It starts off looking like a spider bite and gets bigger over time. If you see any rash, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor.
A rash isn’t the only symptom to keep an eye on. Some people infected with bacteria from a tick won’t get a rash at all! Flu symptoms in the summer may be early symptoms of Lyme disease, so keep an eye out for symptoms like headache, fever, joint and muscle pain, and unexplained fatigue. If you have these symptoms, go see your doctor as soon as possible.
With prevention including a nightly tick check for your whole family (including the furry ones) and early detection and treatment if necessary, it’s unlikely that you’ll have devastating effects from Lyme Disease. Chronic Lyme is a somewhat controversial diagnosis, but if symptoms persist, Chinese Herbal Medicine can be very effective to restore health. More on that in another post...
About Dr Mary Claire Dilks
Dr Mary Claire Dilks is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and owner of Emerging Energy Acupuncture in Providence (RI). She has also been named Best Of RI ("Best Inner Healing"). Visit her at www.emergingenergy.net.