May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. As someone who knew next to nothing about Lyme Disease before my diagnosis, I have come understand all too well the importance of awareness about this potentially devastating, but PREVENTABLE disease. There is so much misinformation about Lyme Disease! Spreading awareness about the FACTS is essential to bring down the rate of infection of Lyme Disease, which is rapidly increasing. Knowledge is power – read on to protect yourself and your loved ones!
Use a Good Repellent
Lyme Disease has been reported on every continent except Antarctica. Ticks can be found just about anywhere – dense wooded areas are NOT the only places that pose a risk. Ticks can be found in the grass at parks, on the beach, in your front yard, etc. Most people know about the danger of deer ticks, but ticks can also travel around on mice and other small animals that live in non-rural areas.
If you are playing outdoors, hiking, picnicing, etc, use a bug repellent that will protect you from ticks. Bug repellents with Picaridin are more effective than DEET! If you are really getting out in the wilderness – camping or hiking for example – treat clothes and fabric gear with Permethrin spray. These repellents are reasonably priced and available via Amazon (click photos for direct links), or at fishing/camping stores.
Check for Ticks
After outdoor activities, check for ticks! Check around the edges of clothing, between toes, behind ears, in any fold/crease, in private areas, and in hair.
It is a MYTH that a tick must be attached for 24 hours in order for Lyme Disease to be transmitted. Lyme can be transmitted in minutes, and the faster you remove the tick safely, the better you protect yourself.
Here’s a handy chart of several kinds of common ticks in the United States. The ones at the bottom are as small as a poppy seed. The top two rows show the ticks as they appear during/after a blood feed.
Remove Ticks Safely
If a tick bite occurs, remove it quickly and safely! The three tick removers above all have excellent reviews and allow you to remove even very small ticks effectively. Consider purchasing one if you live in a high-tick area, do a lot of outdoor activities, have children who play outdoors, or have a pet that spends time outdoors. All of these cost between $5-$15 (a small price to pay for peace of mind!!), and are available on Amazon (click images to purchase). The Pro-Tick remover is even small enough to put on your keys or in a wallet, which is pretty cool!
It is NOT recommended to twist, crush, burn, or put any kind of lotion on the tick. Just grasp it as close to the head as possible with fine tweezers and pull firmly. ***The “Tick Twister” above recommends twisting to remove a tick. The tweezers will work without twisting, and that is preferable!!***
TESTING & TREATMENT
Get Yourself Tested & Treated
If a tick bite occurs, after removing the tick safely, the next step is to SAVE IT (see below), and contact your doctor for a Lyme Disease test. Ask your doctor for a Western Blot Lyme Disease test. Typically, the ELISA test is run first, but it is NOT RELIABLE. False negatives of the ELISA test are VERY COMMON. Insist on a Western Blot test if necessary. Many doctors will prescribe antibiotics before the test results come back. This is the safest way to go, as speedy treatment is the best way to combat Lyme Disease and prevent persistent or chronic infection.
If your Western Blot is negative, ask for a copy of it. Some tests are considered “negative” even though they are partially positive, and if this is the case with your test, you may want to consider treatment.
If you see a bulls-eye or halo type rash, ASSUME LYME INFECTION. Even if you have a negative ELISA and/or Western Blot test, assume that a bulls-eye or halo rash means you have been infected. The rash may appear minutes after a bite, days, or weeks. If you see a rash, take a photo to document it. Get to a doctor and DEMAND antibiotics. I am not kidding!! If a doctor refuses you antibiotics in the face of a bulls-eye or halo rash SEE ANOTHER DOCTOR. Head to an urgent care or ER if need be. The BEST way to prevent late-stage/persistent/chronic Lyme Disease is to be treated AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Lyme Disease DOES NOT go away on its own, and the longer it takes for you to be treated, the more likely you are to have long-lasting complications related to the disease.
Know that the absence of a rash does NOT NECESSARILY MEAN the absence of an infection. Many Lyme Disease patients do not recall ever seeing a rash.
Get the Tick Tested
Lyme Disease testing of ticks is FAR MORE ACCURATE than Lyme Disease testing of humans, so it is a terrific way to find out if a bite has put you at risk for Lyme Disease. Save the tick in a ziploc bag with a moistened piece of paper towel. Even if the tick is broken or damaged, it can still be tested. Look up the phone number on your state’s government website for the Health Department. Some states offer FREE tick testing, and you will be not only gaining your own peace of mind, but also aiding your state in collecting data about local Lyme-infected tick rates. If tick testing is not available through your local health department, you can have your tick tested for $50 through Tick Report, a non-profit tick testing organization through the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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I hope you have found this information helpful! Feel free to share! Knowledge is power!!
For more information about Lyme Disease and tick safety, or to find a Lyme literate physician in your area, visit ILADS.org