May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme Disease in the U.S. every year. That’s 1.5 times the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer, and six times the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS each year.
But diagnosing Lyme can be difficult.
Here are seven important things to know about Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
It’s everywhere. Tick-borne diseases have been found in every state, every country and every continent – except Antarctica.
According to the Tick Borne Disease Alliance, Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are prevalent across the entire United States. Ticks do not know geographic boundaries. A person’s country of residence does not accurately reflect their total tick-borne disease risk, since people travel, pets travel and ticks travel, creating a dynamic situation with many opportunities for exposure for every individual.
Children are at the highest risk. Children suffer the worst from Lyme and co-infections because they are the most active outdoors and their symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses. The hardest hit age group is ages 5-14.
Dr. Charles Ray Jones, a leading pediatric authority on tick-borne diseases, says some common symptoms in children with Lyme are frequent fevers, increased incidence of ear and throat infections, irritability, joint and body pain, poor muscle tone, gastroesophageal reflux, cataracts and other eye problems, developmental delay, learning disabilities, and psychiatric manifestations.
It’s debilitating. One person can have up to 50 painful symptoms that cycle on a weekly basis because of the systemic and cyclical nature of the bacteria. The bacteria is spiral shaped so it can screw into the joints and muscles, causing joint pain, migraines, nerve damage, paralysis, eye issues, insomnia and other debilitating problems. Investigators in four National Institutes of Health-sponsored re-treatment trials documented that for Lyme Disease patients, quality of life was consistently worse than that of control populations and was equivalent to that of patients with congestive heart failure. Pain levels were similar to those of post-surgical patients, and fatigue was on par with that seen in multiple sclerosis.
It can go hand-in-hand with auto-immune diseases. Many tick-borne disease researchers and doctors are finding that their patients that have MS, ALS, early onset Alzheimer’s, Lupus and many other autoimmune and incurable diseases are positive for Lyme. Some recent research done with post-mortem ALS and Alzheimer’s sufferers revealed the borrelia (Lyme) bacteria was in their brains and other areas of the body. The Tick Borne Disease Alliance recommends that Lyme disease be considered in the diagnosis of MS, ALS, seizure and other neurological conditions, as well as arthritis, CFS, Gulf War Syndrome, ADHD, hypochondriasis, fibromyalgia, somatization disorder, autism, orthostatic hypotension, encephalitis, meningitis and patients with various difficult-to-diagnose multi-system syndromes.
You might not get that “bullseye” rash. Up to 40 percent of tick-borne disease sufferers never have the telltale rash associated with Lyme Disease. By the time those patients are diagnosed the illness is much harder to treat. Additionally, fewer than 50 percent of patients with Lyme even remember a tick bite at all, according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
Short course antibiotic treatment is not enough. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 2-3 weeks of antibiotics for a tick bite [if you get symptoms] immediately following the bite, and no treatment if you don’t have symptoms. However, symptoms may come later, which can result in chronic Lyme Disease down the road.
According to the Tick Borne Disease Alliance, “There has never in the history of this illness been one study that proves even in the simplest way that 30 days of antibiotic treatment cures Lyme or tick-borne diseases. However, there is a plethora of documentation in U.S. and European medical literature demonstrating that short courses of antibiotic treatment fail to eradicate the Lyme spirochete and other tick-borne bacteria.”
Awareness and education are the key to prevention. Do tick checks often. Do them even if you have only been in your back yard. Ticks are not just in the woods. Use DEET and other insect repellent, but also dress for the activity you will be participating in. If you are camping, wear long socks tucked into pants so that ticks can’t crawl under your clothing and attach to your skin. Check your pets after they go outside so they aren’t bringing ticks into the house or getting ticks on them.
Make sure to remove ticks properly. Use tweezers and pull straight out. Never use matches or alcohol, doing so will cause them to regurgitate their bacteria into you.