Lyme is perhaps one of the most undiagnosed, undertreated, and least understood epidemics facing our population. Even though, many believe Lyme to be a rare occurrence, the reported cases of Lyme disease continue to increase.
With the risk of Lyme growing, it is important that people familiarize themselves with this deceptive condition and implement effective methods of defending against it.
A Brief Introduction to Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection of Borrelia burgdorferi. Typically, this bacterium is carried by ticks, but recent research shows that it can be transmitted by other methods such as mosquito bites. The most common carriers of Lyme are deer ticks and black-legged ticks that acquire the pathogen from mammals such as mice and deer. Part of the reason Lyme disease has grown over the previous years is that deer and mice population and subsequently tick prevalence has increased. Furthermore, housing growth in rural areas has increased exposure to ticks.
Lyme disease is incredibly challenging to identify because the only unique symptom is a bulls-eye rash at the source of the tick bite. However, this indicator can be easily overlooked and may dissipate before concerns of Lyme develop in the patient or medical practitioner. Typically, symptoms of Lyme appear about one to two weeks after the hallmark bulls-eye rash. Symptoms of Lyme include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Joint and muscle stiffness or aches
- Nerve issues
- Severe fatigue
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Tingling and numbness
Lyme disease has earned the title of “the great imitator” because it has a tendency to promote symptoms similar to those of other conditions. Lyme is frequently misidentified as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, MS, depression, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. This is troublesome as an inaccurate diagnosis can lead to improper treatment that further perpetuates Lyme and its associated symptoms.
The Best Way to Combat Lyme
If a person has contracted Lyme disease, it’s best if the condition is recognized early through thorough examination and proper identification of symptoms. However, the ideal means of counteracting Lyme is to implement protective practices that prevent the infection from ever occurring.
Creating a Safer Environment
To prevent the spread of Lyme, consider altering your environment to be less welcoming for ticks.
Remove Tick Habits
Ticks thrive in certain areas such as brush, tall grasses, and any location where rodents or small mammals nest. Regularly groom exterior areas and eliminat tall grasses and brush near the home or edges of lawns. This protective measure can be further bolstered by incorporating a three-foot expanse of wood chips, gravel, or concrete, between common use areas and lawns or tree-lines.
Utilize Tick Repellants and Pesticides
Treating exterior spaces with tick pesticides in the form of bifenthrin, pyrethroid, or permethrin, can help reduce the tick population among animals, plants, and grasses. There are also tools available that can administer these tick-deterring substances on potential animal hosts. Tick tubes contain nest building material that has been treated with permethrin. This insecticide is formulated from chrysanthemums, is safe for humans and is effective at repelling ticks. The thought behind this product is that rodents and small mammals will utilize the treated nesting material, which will deter ticks from latching on to the animal.
For larger mammals such as deer, implementing a deer 4-Poster system can be helpful. This feeding system applies permethrin to deer or other animals that come into contact with the unit when they are feeding. Studies show that the tick population may decline significantly after implementation of such pesticide treatments but there is still a risk of transmission through tick and mosquito bites.
Personal Protection Practices
Taking control of individual protection can be done by utilizing the following personal safety practices to repel ticks and limit the risk of Lyme transmission.
Before Going Outside
Preparing to go outside is an important part of tick prevention. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing including a long sleeve shirt, long socks, pants tucked into socks, a hat, and safe footwear (not open-toed shoes or sandals). Additionally, applying repellants such as DEET to exposed skin can add a layer of protection to skin that is exposed. DEET and permethrin can also be applied to clothing to deter ticks from latching on to clothes.
When outside working, hiking, gardening, etc. avoid tall grasses, shrubbery, or fallen leaves. These areas are tick hot spots. Trekking through such areas increases the risk of tick transference. Ideally, a cleared path or open space can be used to avoid contact with areas that have a greater potential of hiding Lyme-carrying ticks.
After Being Outside
Following a tick-prevention protocol is very helpful for limiting the risk of tick bites. After retuning indoors, it is best to take a shower immediately. This helps eliminate potential Lyme carriers and lowers the risk of ticks coming into contact with the skin if they were brought in on clothing. After showering, place outdoor clothing into the dryer on high heat. This will kill any ticks that have hitched a ride on garments or shoes.
Tick checks should also be done when returning from an exterior environment. This includes a visual and physical examination of the body. Special focus should be given to dark or moist areas including behind the knees and ear, underarms, elbows, among hair, and the crotch.
Protect Yourself by Practicing Lyme Safety
Lyme is incredibly stubborn, difficult to diagnose, and challenging to treat. Therefore, preemptive measures to protect the body from tick bites and the transference of Lyme is the best way to combat Lyme. Creating a tick-repelling environment and following a personal protection protocol can help keep yourself and others safe from tick bites and reduce the spread of Lyme disease.