As the sun shines and the temps warm up, Iowa Summer kicks into full effect. Families go on adventures in the woods, and those who are brave may even take their little ones tent camping. As the kids are out from school, they get together in their neighborhoods and forage through the woods and grass to play games and build forts.
While the above adventures are fantastic and needed, we have to make sure we are protecting ourselves and our children from the microscopic 6-8 legged creatures that lurk on the blades of grass and in the woods – I’m talking about ticks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports approximately 300,000 people contract Lyme disease each year, there are other studies that show hundreds of thousands of people get bit and go undiagnosed each year as well. A study at John Hopkins reported that 35% of the people diagnosed with Lyme disease had remained ill after acute treatment for the disease.
In more recent years, especially in Dubuque and the surrounding areas, Lyme disease has become a common problem. Lyme is an infectious blood disease spread via ticks after they feed off other infected animals and then attach themselves to humans. The problem with today’s ticks is that they have evolved. It’s not simply borrelia burgdorferi (the technical name for the Lyme bacteria) anymore. One tick can have multiple bacterial strains, parasites and other pathogens that are injected into the host (the human) with one bite. You may have heard of other tick-borne associated diseases such as Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), there are quite a few prevalent strains talked about now with many more that have yet to be discovered.
Lyme is often called “the great imitator” because Lyme can mimic a wide variety of diseases including but not limited to: multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn’s disease, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, ALD (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and arthritis. This often makes the diagnosis of Lyme disease very challenging and so often causes a long delay in diagnosis and treatment. I say this because people need to know the seriousness of this disease.
So now that you know about ticks and Lyme disease, what can you do to help keep you and your loved ones safe this summer?
- Use safe tick spray (as you know from previous articles, we need to keep our immune system/gut healthy, chemical toxins from DEET or other sprays can decrease our immune function). There are a few brands out now that specialize in safe/natural repellent. It’s best to get it from a quality, trusted source.
- Protect your body with clothing and hats. If you know you’re going to be scavenging in the woods, where a hat and long socks.
- Take a shower after you’ve been out in the woods and have someone else do a full body tick check. Most ticks are very small, the size of a poppy seed.
- Check your 4-legged friends! They have highest risk for getting ticks as their four legs are running across the brush that has these ticks. If your pets sleep with you or come inside, the ticks can easily crawl off them and onto you. You don’t even have to go into the woods to be bit! Not even fair!
- If you do find an embedded tick, remove the tick as soon as you can using tweezers. With tweezers, grasp the tick by the head or mouth parts right where they enter the skin. Pull firmly and steadily outward. Do not jerk, twist or puncture the tick.
If you don’t know how long the tick was embedded, go see a provider (preferably someone who understand Lyme). Send the tick off for testing if you have it to see what it was carrying. Remember, only a small percentage of people get the classical “Bull’s Eye Rash” that is often described when you hear about Lyme. Most of the people never have immediate signs, but days to months later, start developing joint pain, fatigue, etc. that they have a hard time pointing back to Lyme.
When I see patients with tick bites in my office and presenting with symptoms, I usually treat them with a 21-30 day supply of doxycycline antibiotic. As an integrative provider, I avoid antibiotics at all cost but when I see Lyme, I see what the long term complications could be so I’m very proactive about treating. *Side note: You should always take probiotics while on antibiotics*
Have a great summer and go do adventures in the woods, just know what to watch for and stay safe!
Stephanie Grutz, ARNP, FNP-C
Owner Balance Integrative Health & Wellness