TOUCHED BY LYME: (guest blog) Proper tick removal, early treatment can reduce risk of disease
Is fear of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses keeping you from outdoor activities? Maryland Lyme advocate Lucy Barnes addresses this very real concern. While her remarks are tailored to the Eastern Shore region, they offer useful advice for the rest of the country as well.
To many Maryland residents, the fear of acquiring Lyme disease is a major deterrent to exercising outdoors, gardening or even playing in one’s own back yard. The fear, however, is well-founded and to be expected. The Eastern Shore has one of the highest incident rates for Lyme disease in the country, causing major health problems and financial concerns for many. As impossible as it may seem, tiny ticks are slowly taking over and changing the way we live, work and play on the Shore.
4. Those who have been negatively affected by Lyme disease (over 150,000 Maryland residents) are often fearful, rightly so, of contracting it again. A survey conducted by federal agencies reported a reduction in Maryland “sportspersons,” with 45,000 less people hunting and fishing (2001-2006). This downward trend negatively affects both private businesses and the state by producing less revenues.
5. Parents report keeping children indoors in an effort to protect them from ticks. An independent non-profit (Colorado) concluded outdoor activity time for children has been reduced by 11 percent and attributes the reduction to a decline in children’s overall health.
6. Outdoor workers have become severely ill, some unable to continue at their job in spite of using protective measures to avoid ticks. Many must risk the danger of repeated exposures or accept financial ruin by giving up their jobs.
7. Chemicals to repel or kill ticks are being used more often on skin, clothing and in the environment, which in turn has its own consequences. Reduction of air quality, pollution of watersheds, and damage to our unique flora and fauna must be considered.
8. Once tick-borne disease organisms become entrenched, they can destroy a person’s health and their wallet. According to an actuarial study, “37 percent of the financial costs of this disease is incurred before the correct diagnosis is made.” A CDC study (1998) reports early Lyme costs averaged $161 per patient and neurologic longstanding Lyme disease averaged $61,243 per patient, per year.
9. The totals above do not consider the costs for people who are co-infected with one or more tick-borne diseases, such as the several strains of Babesia, Bartonella, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and the Rickettsias (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, etc.) found on the Shore. Adding to those costs are infections that have been detected in some Lyme patients salmonella, trichinoses, Parvo B-19, Epstein Barr, Herpes viruses, Tularemia, West Nile, Brucellosis, Histoplasmosis, STARI and Mycoplasma.
10. The Eastern Shore is experiencing a tick-borne disease epidemic, a true health crisis that is not being adequately addressed by public health officials. Research funding continues to be funneled to those who believe Lyme is easy to diagnose and cure, there is no such thing as “chronic Lyme disease,” the tests are accurate, their insurance-friendly treatment guidelines are in the patient’s best interest and the authors are not in spite of the attorney general’s findings biased or riddled with conflicts-of-interest.
With all that is wrong, everyone agrees on one major point the sooner treatment begins after a tick bite, the better.
The good news
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. We encourage residents to join in the campaign to Get it Right, Treat the Bite! To lick the ticks we all need to be proactive and say “no” to the old “wait and see” approach.
Below are some helpful tips from the website www.TreatTheBite.com. The site provides prevention information, proper tick removal procedures and additional resource links. It also includes recommendations for treating tick bites that were written by a physician who successfully treated thousands of Lyme disease patients. (“Advanced Topics in Lyme Disease” 16th edition, 2008- Burrascano)
1. Do not wait for a rash or symptoms to appear. Take action as soon as you are bitten. Proper tick removal and early treatment can help reduce the risk of contracting tick-borne diseases.
2. Deer tick, dog tick, Gulf Coast tick or lone star tick, it doesn’t matter. Multiple disease causing organisms are found in ticks once thought not to harbor them.
3. Save your money, forget the tests. Tests are unable to detect exposure to Lyme disease for several weeks after a person is infected (barring prior exposure), and then, up to 75 percent of people with Lyme are missed.
4. If Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is suspected, treat immediately. A newly discovered strain of Rickettsia (spotted fever group) has been found in Maryland ticks. Illnesses caused by Rickettsia can be deadly.
5. Say NO to just one dose of Doxycycline. There is no credible scientific evidence indicating only one dose of Doxycycline will cure Lyme or any other tick borne disease.
6. Read the prescription label and follow instructions. If you have questions, contact your pharmacist or doctor.
7. Be your own health care advocate. Print out treatment recommendations from www.TreatTheBite.com to share with friends and your health care professionals.
Remember to Get it Right, Treat the Bite!
Lucy Barnes is director of Lyme Disease Education & Support Groups of Maryland, www.MarylandLyme.org.