Ticked Off: Protect Yourself from Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is now the fastest growing vector-borne disease in North America. The CDC has upped their estimate of new cases from 30,000 to 300,000 a year in the U.S. In Canada, where denial is still rampant, the government says only 300 new cases are reported a year, but is now saying the number of anticipated cases is 3,000. Most people in Canada are diagnosed out of the country or by naturopathic doctors who are not recognized as legitimate sources for reporting, so these numbers are no doubt too low.

Lyme Disease has more than 75 possible symptoms ranging from rashes and fevers to arthritis, to peripheral and central nervous system disorders, to heart conditions such as arrhythmia and tachycardia. Every system and organ of the body can be a target by borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes the disease. Borrelia is a spirochete bacteria similar to syphilis, making it very difficult to treat in many cases.And there are at least three co-infections that afflict many Lyme sufferers, intensifying the debilitating effects of the disease.

The Lyme bacteria is now reportedly found almost everywhere in North America and many parts of Europe. The European version of the bacteria is slightly different, making it more difficult to diagnose if you are being tested in North America. The black-legged deer tick is the most common carrier of the disease. But there are other ticks that carry Lyme and other infectious diseases, such as the lone star tick, the rocky mountain tick, and the ixodes angustus.

There are many steps you can take to protect you, your family and your pets from this crippling disease. Knowing the life cycle of the black-legged tick, what they look like and where they’re hiding is your first line of defense. During the nymphal stage, they love shady, damp areas with dead leaves, brush, and woodpiles, so keeping these areas cleared will also help with early season prevention

Learn to identify the black-legged tick http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/blacklegged.html

Learn to identify the black-legged tick http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/blacklegged.html.

The black-legged tick’s most active season is January to November in the most endemic regions (Use this link to find out about your area: http://www.tickencounter.org/tick_identification). The nymph stage begins around May and ends in July or August. Apparently, this is the first stage they are able to transmit the disease. This is the most dangerous stage because they are difficult to detect. No bigger than a poppy seed, the nymph is on the ground under leaves and dead grass waiting for an unsuspecting host to attach itself to. They crawl from the ground up.

Adult ticks are found on tall grasses, shrubs and thickets from July to November, but are also active from January to April in many regions. They’re opportunists, waiting for a host to brush past so they can hitch a ride for a blood meal. Keep to cleared trails and avoid thick underbrush while hiking whenever possible. They can be brought in on your pets, or your clothing, so give yourself and your pets a thorough, full body check every day. Clothing can be thrown in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any remaining ticks.

Wearing light-colored, long sleeve shirt, long pants, and a hat are your next line of defense. The light color will help you see the tick. The shirt should be tight at the wrists and pants should be tucked into long socks. Not the most stylish look, but it’ll go a long way to protecting you. Garden gloves are essential if you’re working in plant debris. A sticky lint roller used after possible exposure is good to have on hand to intermittently use on your clothes. Take a shower within a couple of hours of possible exposure, but understand an attached tick should not be scrubbed off.

As someone suffering from Lyme Disease, I use the added security of an insect repellent. So far permethrin is the most effective for killing ticks on contact, and is less toxic than DEET as it’s not for your skin. Spray your footwear once a month for the duration of the season. Outer clothing sprayed or soaked in it and left to dry before wearing will last through many washes. Spray the outside of your tents, backpacks, and any other materials that could come in contact with ticks.  Permethrin is also used on dogs, but unfortunately is toxic to cats. It is a neurotoxin, but is purported to be safe for humans at the rate needed to repel or kill ticks.

I have yet to find an all-natural repellent that has a proven track record like permethrin, but I’m still looking. If you are aware of one, let us know. I’d love to NOT have to use toxic chemicals. I’ve provided a link for an all-natural repellent, but I have not personally tested it nor is there any reference to its proven effectiveness.

It can take up to two hours for a tick to fully embed itself. But if you do find an attached tick, it’s vital you use the appropriate method for removal. A small pair of tweezers are needed or you can purchase a tick twist stick. It can take from 24 to 48 hours  to be infected, but to be safe, take yourself and the tick to the nearest clinic or hospital. The tick should be sent away to be tested for the borrelia bacteria, and a round of antibiotics should be prescribed as a precaution, particularly if you don’t know how long the tick was attached to you. (See link below for proper tick removal methods)

By far the most comprehensive site I’ve found on info to protect yourself is www.tickencounter.org  Click on the link for tick removal and other, more in-depth information.

All-natural repellent: http://www.ticks-n-all.com/

Permethrin spray: http://sawyer.com/technology/permethrin/

About the author

Rose Doucet

Rose Doucet is a freelance writer living in New Brunswick, Canada where there is often six months of winter. She enjoys snowshoeing in the woods behind her house, observing nature and tracking wildlife. In the off season you'll find her in the kitchen, her vegetable gardens or swimming in the brook. Contact with nature is a part of Rose's daily routine and has helped shape her outlook on life in general. She
passed on her love of nature to her children and now has a grandson who's already a budding naturalist.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.