I live in the woods at the corner of two dirt roads. I was drawn to this area by all the fun outdoor activities right in my back yard. Being outside makes me happy. It nourishes my soul. And yet… I’m concerned about ticks! When it comes to tick born diseases, knowledge is power. Lyme disease can feel scary. However, if caught early, it is a condition that can be treated fairly easily. This is why it is so important to take measures to both prevent Lyme disease, and to recognize and treat it early.
Check yourself for ticks
It is important to check yourself thoroughly for ticks on a daily basis during the spring, summer and fall. This is especially important if you spent time outside.
Lyme disease and co-infections are carried on blacklegged (deer) ticks and lone star ticks. Please see below for pictures of these ticks.
If you find a tick on yourself, remove it carefully following these steps (from the American Lyme Foundation) http://www.aldf.com/lyme.shtml#removal)
Using a pair of pointed precision* tweezers, grasp the tick by the head or mouthparts right where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body.
Without jerking, pull firmly and steadily directly outward. DO NOT twist the tick out or apply petroleum jelly, a hot match, alcohol or any other irritant to the tick in an attempt to get it to back out. Clean the bite wound with disinfectant.
Put the tick in a zip lock bag or small plastic vial with a small piece of moistened paper towel. Be sure the container is firmly sealed. Send the tick in to be tested for Lyme disease. Umass Amherst will test ticks, and the fee is often subsidized depending on where you live. For more information, see www.umass.edu/tick.
*Keep in mind that certain types of fine-pointed tweezers, especially those that are etched, or rasped, at the tips, may not be effective in removing nymphal deer ticks. Choose unrasped fine-pointed tweezers whose tips align tightly when pressed firmly together.
If your tick tests positive, visit your doctor ASAP
Know the symptoms of acute Lyme disease
Many, but not all cases of Lyme disease have the classic “bull’s eye rash” known as
erythema migrans. There can also be other more diffuse rashes that are not at the site of the initial tick bite. If you develop a rash visit your doctor immediately.
Acute Lyme disease typically present with flu like symptoms. These include (but are not limited to): fatigue that makes it hard to do anything but lie on the couch, body aches, headaches, fever, stiff neck and neurological symptoms such as Bell’s Palsy. If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your doctor immediately and inquire about a test and/or treatment for Lyme disease.
The tests that most medical doctors use to identify Lyme disease are not all that great. A positive test means you do have the disease, but a negative result does NOT necessarily mean you do not have it. This is for a number of reasons that I will not go into here. Many physicians will treat for acute Lyme disease in the the absence of a positive test result if the symptoms match a diagnosis of Lyme disease. If you believe that you have Lyme disease, and are not getting the care you feel you need, you may need to seek out a second, or even a third opinion.
Remember that up to 50% of people with Lyme disease do not remember being bitten by a tick, and many never developed a rash.
Protect yourself from ticks
If you are spending time in the woods, tuck your pants into your socks (make it a New England fashion statement!). Wear light colored clothing so that you can more easily see ticks. If you are out for an extended period of time, consider a DEET containing bug spray as well as treating clothing with the insecticide permethrin (note: permethrin is for clothes only).