Alt-Health:Terrible Ticks

My friend Dan was a guy full of energy; when he was stressed out, he retreated to the woods for hiking and healing. Nature was his sanctuary until the day he was bitten by a deer tick. In a week, a circular rash appeared  and fever set in. He brushed it off, only going to a doctor after his symptoms worsened over many weeks. His last words before beginning treatments were, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” But he’d waited too long. Instead, Lyme got him. I watched this strong, vibrant guy turn into an exhausted invalid. He’d once worked 10 and 12 hours at a time. Now he drags himself through four-hour stints and collapses, needing days to recover.

And all because of a little freakin’ bug.

Lyme Disease first appeared in the ’70’, when citizens in Lyme, Connecticut, began suffering from swollen knees, rashes, headaches and severe chronic fatigue. These families were left undiagnosed for years; if not for the efforts of two persistent moms, the Connecticut board of health may never have contacted Dr. Allen Steere, a rheumatologist at Yale. He is credited with discovering Lyme in 1976. Today, he is the world’s foremost authority; he laid the groundwork for most of what we know today. But not all of his fellow physicians followed those guidelines. Many doctors at first refused to recognize Lyme. Some doctors who did treat it subjected patients to intravenous treatments lasting months, or even years. Up to a third of them continued to have symptoms such as fatigue, cognitive difficulty, joint pain and sleep disturbances. Unfortunately, overuse of antibiotics can cause similar side effects. Today, physicians agree that such treatments are both dangerous and ineffective.

Lyme is not easy to diagnose. Its symptoms can mimic many other conditions, and in the absence of the characteristic ring rash, the prognosis is a guessing game. Tests can detect antibodies in the blood, but those can take up to two to three weeks to develop. Yet, early detection is crucial. If caught before full onset, a mere 14 to 21 day course of antibiotics can prevent the disease from becoming a chronic nightmare.

So, let’s take a look at the villain in this drama: the black-legged deer tick. These nasty little buggers are not much bigger than the head of a pin, but can they carry with them a world of woe. Not all deer ticks are infected, but if one bites, you have only 36 hours to find and remove it before the infection enters your bloodstream.

If you find a tick, handle it as if it were radioactive material; do NOT touch it. Do not try to burn it with a match. The safest removal method is with fine-tipped tweezers. Grab the tick as close to its mouth (which is attached to your skin) as possible, and gently pull straight out. Do not twist it, or you will break off the body and leave its head embedded. Do not squeeze the body or you will inject ites contents into your skin. If completely removed, the area of the bite should leave a small crater where the head was embedded. If portions remain, leave them alone; your body will naturally expel them. Seal the tick in a plastic bag; if you show ANY sign of an infection, the remains can speed a diagnosis. Douse the bite area with hydrogen peroxide or other disinfectant and say a prayer. If you have any of these symptoms, go immediately to the nearest ER: fever, headache, confusion, weakness or paralysis, numbness, vomiting, difficulty breathing or heart palpitations. Lyme is not the only disease carried by ticks, although it is the only one indigenous to New England. Our larger brown dog ticks do not transmit Lyme.

April through September are prime tick months. If you venture outdoors, avoid grassy areas and shrubs where ticks lay in wait. Don’t go crashing through the underbrush; walk in the center of paths. Light colored clothing makes ticks easier to spot; wear long pants and tuck them into your socks. Apply insect repellent that is specific to ticks. You also can treat your clothes with permethrin, a pesticide that effectively repels ticks. When you get home, peel off your clothes and do a body check; ticks can run up your leg faster than you think and head straight for your crotch.

Guard your yard. Remove plants that attract deer, and use barriers to keep them out. If you want to enjoy barbecues without wearing combat gear, consult a nursery or county office to see if your yard can be treated for ticks with environmentally safe methods.

Please protect yourself when you are communing with Mother Nature this summer. Trust me, she’ll understand.

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