May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month Advice on Lyme Disease

Campus

People all around the world are currently having some fun doing the “Lyme disease challenge.” This entails stuffing a lime in your mouth, posting a picture of your best lime-puckered expression on the Lyme Disease Challenge web site, along with a donation for Lyme disease research.

It’s a fun gesture, inspired by the previous ice bucket challenge for ALS, but the illness it brings attention to, Lyme disease, is anything but fun. Dr Oz completed the Lyme disease challenge, featuring singer Avril Lavigne, who recently went public with her struggle with Lyme disease.

She is very ill at this point, as are millions of people around the world with an infection caused by a borrelial bacterium known as a spirochete. This is in the same family as syphilis. Indeed, some of the symptoms between these two illnesses are similar, like the relapsing nature and the way both can affect the entire body.

The Lyme spirochetal bacteria, named for Lyme, CT; where the illness was initially reported in 1975, get through the blood-brain barrier early on and cause inflammation. They can also corkscrew into tissues anywhere; thus, Lyme patients end up with a myriad of confusing symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, regarding initial symptom presentation, “Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans, or EM rash. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.”

However, many people do not get an initial bull’s eye rash, leaving them confused about their many vague, shifting and growing symptoms.

You may never see the tick that bit you, since they can be the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Nymph ticks can bite and drop off; adult female ticks might camp awhile in the skin and be easier to see.

Additionally, there are reports of other bugs biting and possibly transmitting Lyme disease. It can also be transmitted via fluids and tissues, including in breast milk, and in blood transfusions. Patients may never realize that they’ve been infected  when they develop chronic Lyme disease.

Later symptoms may not develop for weeks or months, and may even be the first indications that someone has Lyme disease. Later symptoms can include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, hormone irregularities, intestinal irregularities, soft tissue and joint pain, muscle twitching, sensitivity to light and sound and chemicals, difficulty with concentration and memory, heart problems and more.

For anyone who is fortunate enough to be aware of a known tick bite, it is advisable to get triage antibiotics of a sufficient strength and dosage to knock out any chance of a Lyme infection.

It’s important to see Lyme-literate medical professionals who are used to treating Lyme patients. Referrals to Lyme-literate medical professionals can be obtained at www.lymenet.org by posting a request in the Seeking A Doctor section.

Tests are not always accurate. The ELISA screening test is accurate only 50% of the time! In comparison to the AIDS screening test which is supposed to have 95% accuracy.

The IGeneX Lab in Palo Alto conducts Western Blot IgM and IgG antibody tests, but even this competent lab catches only 60-70% of cases. This is because the bacteria might not be in the blood sample. They might be hiding in cyst form, or immune system might be too weak to mount a sufficient defense. There is an antigen culture blood test done through Advanced Laboratory Services in PA, but it too can miss the infection if there are no bacteria in the blood draw. 

Therefore, Lyme-treating doctors often treat Lyme clinically, by history and symptoms. Often a person will test positive after some treatment when their immune system is strong enough to fight back.

People can also have co-infections in the mix, such as babesiosis, bartonella, erhlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Babesiosis is caused by a blood protozoan, babesia, that lives in red blood cells. It causes profound fatigue, and night sweats and chills. It is treated similar to malaria.

Bartonella is due to a bacterium that infects red blood cells; its most well-known incarnation is cat-scratch fever. It causes swollen lymph nodes, sore feet, nightmares and strong anger feelings.

Erhlichiosis and anaplasmosis are two closely related infections that cause fevers, headaches, muscle pain, and can damage organs. A Lyme-treating doctor knows how to look for subtle signs of co-infections, and knows how to treat them.

Treatment for Lyme disease falls in three categories: kill/deter the organisms, detox, and fortify the body. Antibiotics are the usual initial treatment. Some people, however, may be allergic to antibiotics and have to treat with herbs.

The Lyme bacteria do not like heat or oxygen, so heat treatments and oxygen treatments may be included. Detoxing is needed in chronic cases to clear out inflammation. Some use far infrared (FIR) saunas to sweat out toxins. Others detox with oral remedies.

Fortification is important to do because the bacteria uses up the body’s nutrients for its needs. For example, it utilizes magnesium for its reproductive needs, depriving us of magnesium needed for cellular ATP energy and thus rendering us tired all the time. Magnesium is also a part of over 300 enzyme reactions, thus its decrease is keenly felt in most body systems. That’s just one example of the loss of a nutrient we need; there are more that need supplementation.

Our pets can also get these infections. Vets are generally aware of them and know how to treat them. www.dogsandticks.com is an interesting web site, as we can move a cursor across a map of the US to see reported percentages of some of these infections in dogs.

It’s best to know what to do to avoid getting these infections or any further exposure if you are already battling Lyme disease and co-infections. The California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control outline several suggestions to minimize your exposure to ticks and tick-borne infectious disease:

  • Avoid wooded and grassy areas, particularly in the summer months, or areas such as fields that have wild rodents (ticks often live on these animals).
  • Wear appropriate clothing - long pants with tall sock. If possible tuck pants into socks, wear long-sleeved shirts that are tight at the wrist, and wear a hat.
  • Spray clothing with insect repellent.
  • Always check yourself for ticks immediately following possible exposure.

There are lots of tick repellent options. One of them is essential oils, which are not toxic to us but keep bugs away. Orange Guard is an essential oil product derived from oranges. Orange Guard can be found in health food stores and hardware stores. Put a small amount in a spray bottle, fill with water and spray on clothing and gear. Use other essential oils for skin.

If you see an embedded tick, do not remove it with your bare hands; use tweezers or go to a health facility for immediate removal. Same for pets - you can also take them to the vet.

Some people are also apply additional protection on their dogs by misting or rubbing the Orange Guard spray onto their dog’s fur.

Some variations on the above CDC instructions for California:  ticks are active here all year long. Nymph ticks, the 2nd development stage, emerge in the spring and are active spring and summer, while adult ticks are active November through June. Tick advice applies all year long in our state. Deer can carry a lot of ticks; where there are deer, there are usually ticks that can drop off on the ground.

Birds and small animals like mice, squirrels, chipmunks can carry ticks that then drop off on the ground. Ticks have been found in backyards here as well, so we need to be vigilant regarding any vegetation. It’s even been reported that someone got Lyme disease from leaning against a tree in the Great America parking lot in Santa Clara. This means that wood and trees need to be treated with caution too, as bird and squirrels can deposit ticks there. It’s a new world out there...

Risk of infection depends on percentage of ticks infected in any area. Tick dragging with flannel captures ticks for testing. There are 10 cases of Lyme disease known to have been contracted in San Francisco, which is low.

Marin and East Bay are showing 5-10% infected ticks; Santa Cruz, Monterey, Sonoma and Napa are approximately 15% tick-infected, and parts of Mendocino have 40% infected nymphs!

One more caveat to California - the state recently passed a law allowing dogs in outdoor restaurant patios. Thus, it may be prudent to put some tick repellent on restaurant patios with dogs, since any dog can drop a tick off anywhere. We already have a report of a San Francisco resident who got reinfected in a dog park, and another case of a San Francisco resident who got Lyme disease inside the home from a tick off the dog. 

Prevention starts with awareness. There are tips for tip removal and vegetation management online. For example, www.wildflower-seed.com offers a long-handled cutter such that you can trim vegetation back where ticks might be, and deposit the cut vegetation elsewhere without having to come in contact with it. Learn more about what’s happening and how to manage it all at www.lymedisease.org, www.lymenet.org, www.lymediseaseassociation.org, and more. Being pro-active and careful during time spent outside and with pets can have a significant impact on avoiding encounters with an infected tick!