Spring Has Sprung and Also Ticks

On May 5th, 2012, I was bitten by a tick. After that, my life was irrevocably changed in more ways than I ever thought were possible. In honor of how far I’ve come on this roller coaster that is life, I figured that I would write up an informational post about what Lyme even is and what to do about those pesky ticks that will be (and already are) everywhere this year.

So here we go.

Wait, let’s talk about ticks? Ticks are weird. And creepy. You know why? Because they’re arachnids. Yeah, you know. Like spiders. CREEPY. Ticks are tricky because there are literally hundreds of different kinds and they can carry any number of various pathogens, viruses, bacterias and other nasty stuff that they can then transfer to humans and animals alike. Ew. Ticks are known for feeding on deer, yet they have also been known to feed on mice, rabbits, horse, dogs, rabbits, birds, etc. It is important to remember that ticks do not start out infected (thus not all ticks are a threat), they must feed off of an already infected animal. After that, they can then infect whatever they bite next. It is important to also note that the tick infection rate varies from area to area, year to year. There are so many factors, that it is impossible to predict whether a tick will be infected, or not, so it is always a good thing to get tested in the event that you are bitten by a tick.

Ticks have life stages-what’s the deal with that? Ticks have four stages; they are egg, larva, nymph and adult. Ticks in the nymph stage tend to wreak the most havoc, as far as Lyme is concerned.

Where are ticks? Everywhere. Don’t believe it when people say that they are just in the woods. They love grass, dampness and attaching themselves to whatever passes them by.

How long does a tick need to be attached to transmit Lyme? Contrary to popular belief, a tick does not need to be attached for 24 hours to transmit the Lyme bacteria. It has been shown that it can take as little as 6 hours. However, definitive studies have not been done and everyone should proceed with great caution when a tick bite occurs, regardless of how long it has been there. There is always a risk.

What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is a bacterial infection. More often than not, Lyme disease is acquired via the bite of an infected deer tick. Though cases of Lyme have been reported in all states, the Northwest and Upper Midwest are most largely affected by the growing epidemic. A tick going unnoticed can remain on your body for hours to days at a time, engorging itself on your blood as it transmits the spirochetal bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) into your bloodstream.

How do you know if you have Lyme disease? If you’ve been bitten by a tick, you may start to experience symptoms anywhere from 2-30 days after the initial bite. Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosis, meaning that your treating physician will take into account your past medical history and your current symptoms. Additional laboratory tests can be run to determine a Lyme diagnosis, though many are not completely reliable.

What tests are out there? There are direct and indirect tests that can be used to test for Lyme. Direct tests (such as the Lyme Dot Blot Assay (LDA) or the Lyme Multiplex PCR) look for the presence of B. burgdorferi antigens or nucleic acids. Indirect tests (such as Elisa, IFA and the Western Blot) look for the patient’s immune response to B. burgdorferi. It is important to note that not all ticks are infected, however, ticks themselves can be tested for B. burgdorferi using a test called Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease? Firstly, there are three major stages of Lyme disease, each with their own varied and increasing set of symptoms: Stage 1- early localized infection (1-4 weeks), Stage 2- early spreading of the infection (1-4 months) and Stage 3- Late/chronic persistent infection (4+months).

Symptoms are as follows:

Stage 1

  • Bull’s eye rash (though it only occurs in less than 40% of patients)
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Stage 2

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Migrating pain
  • Weakness and/or numbness in the arms of legs
  • Twitching muscles
  • Severe or recurring headaches
  • Fainting
  • Poor Memory and concentration problems
  • Irritability
  • Vision problems
  • Internal buzzing feeling
  • Heart palpitations
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood disorders

Stage 3

  • Swelling and pain in the joints
  • Numbness and tingling in the extremities
  • Severe fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Bells Palsy (partial paralysis of the face)
  • Getting lost in common places
  • Problems speaking, word retrieval problems, word block
  • Migrating pain and symptoms
  • Heart damage, pericarditis
  • Meningitis
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Bladder problems
  • Tinnitus, ear ringing or feeling of fullness
  • Poor balance
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rib and sternum soreness
  • Fevers/sweats
  • Vertigo
  • Upset stomach and GI problems
  • Burning and stabbing pains

Just to name a few.

Now if left untreated, Stage 3 Lyme can progress past the blood-brain barrier, into the tissue of your central nervous system and wreak all kinds of havoc with your brain. This can be called Neuro-Psychiatric Lyme or, to get more technical, Lyme Neuroborreliosis or Lyme Encephalopathy. Symptoms of this stage are as follows:

  • Simple and complex attention
  • Slow processing-visual and auditory
  • Visual-spatial difficulties-e.g. trouble finding things, getting lost
  • Auditory processing disorders
  • Visual processing disorders
  • Sensory integration disorders
  • Short-term and working memory difficulties
  • Word-finding, word generation and communication difficulties
  • Decline in executive functions-planning and organization
  • Confusion, decline in overall intellectual performance
  • Anxiety, often with panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Irritability/rage attacks/impulse dyscontrol/violent behavior/oppositional defiance disorder
  • sleep disorders
  • Rapid mood swings that may mimic bipolarity (mania/depression)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Autism Spectrum-like disorders
  • Antisocial disorders
  • Eating disorders

And more severe Neurological symptoms associated with late-stage Lyme:

  • Progressive dementias
  • Seizure disorders
  • Strokes
  • Motor neuron disease, similar to ALS
  • Gullain-Barre-like syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis-like syndromes
  • Other extrapyramidal disorders
  • Visual disturbances or loss

What are the coinfections that could potentially come along with Lyme? It is important to understand that from just one tick bite you can get many tick-borne diseases, and the longer the tick stays attached, the greater the risk of disease will be. It is also important to note that it is possible to have one of the coinfections without having Lyme disease, though it is rare. Each coinfection has to be individually and clinically diagnosed and as it varies from patient to patient, symptoms could be quite diverse. Here is a list of some of the coinfections that you may find yourself affected by if you’ve been bitten by a tick (with or without Lyme):

  • Babesiosis
  • Bartonellosis
  • Borrelia Miyamotoi
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Colorado Tick Fever
  • Powassan Encephalitis
  • Q Fever
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness)
  • Tick paralysis
  • Tularemia
  • Rickettsiosis
  • Mycoplasma
  • Parvo Virus

Who can be affected by Lyme disease and its coinfections? Everyone is at risk, from babies to elderly folks. It has been shown that even babies still in the womb can become infected-Lyme DNA has been found in breast milk, and the Lyme bacterium can cross the placenta which may result in fetal death.

What you can do to protect yourself: During the Spring, Summer and Fall it is important that, upon entering tick country, you’re dressed appropriately-light colored long sleeve shirts, pants, shoes that cover your feet, a hat and tuck your pants into your socks. No, it is not meant to be flattering. In addition, always walk in the middle of pathways, use known tick repellents, always check your skin and all hair areas thoroughly. Pets and all gear (example: deer hunters) should be fully checked for ticks before putting into cars or brought into houses.

In addition to looking dorky, there are tick repellents that can be used. It’s preferable–for the sake of Mother Earth and your body–that an all natural tick repellent is used. Go here to check out some really great products made with all natural ingredients by the fabulous people at Ticks-N-All.

How to properly remove a tick:
This is so important.

  1. Use tweezers or forceps or one of those cute tick spoons you can find in stores
  2. Grasp the tick mouthparts close to the skin
  3. Avoid squeezing the tick, for it may spread infect fluids
  4. Pull the tick straight out, do not twist or attempt to burn the tick
  5. Save the tick (you may want to have it tested)
  6. Wash hands with soap and water
  7. Apply antiseptic to bite site

Fast Facts:

  • According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector-borne, infectious disease in the United Sates
  • The number of cases reported annually has increased nearly 25-fold since National Surveillance began in 1982
  • There are 5 subspecies of Borrelia burgdorferi, over 100 strains int he US, and 300 strains worldwide
  • CDC estimated cases per month: 25,000 Cases per week: 5,770 Cases per day: 822 Cases per hour: 34
  • There are no tests available to prove that the organism is eradicated or that the patient is cured
  • Fewer than 50% or patients with Lyme disease recall a tick bite
  • 40% of Lyme patients end up with long term health problems
  • Fewer than 50% of patients with Lyme disease recall a rash
  • Up to 50% of ticks in Lyme-endemic areas are infected
  • The common test received at your doctor’s office will miss 35-50% of Lyme disease cases
  • Nicknamed the ‘Great Imitator’ Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed as Fibromyalgia, MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and upwards of 300+ other illnesses and diseases
  • Though very rare, cats, like dogs, can get Lyme disease

For more information: You can visit Igenex Inc., ILADS.org, Lyme Disease.org, or (if you’re in Maine) you can visit the Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education online. These sites are invaluable sources of information for people looking for support and more information on Lyme and other related things. Much of the stuff I got for this article is from these sites. Peruse about and enjoy!

Hannah Barry

About Hannah Barry

I am a 26-year-old Mainer. I was bit by a tick 4+ years ago and I've been battling Lyme disease and its various coinfections ever since.