Before my young friend Sarabeth Hammond died 18 months ago, she fought a momentous battle against Lyme Disease, showing the courage, grit, determination and fearlessness that led me to consider her a genuine hero.
Sarabeth died in an auto accident, but the potential for her to have died of Lyme Disease was not insignificant.
Lyme is a disease that has been vastly misunderstood and misdiagnosed for some time now–including in Sarabeth’s case, where she and her mom, Caroline, fought conventional wisdom and a medical system stacked against her, stubborn in its outdated beliefs.
Virginia Tech and the Centers for Disease Control have a new outlook on Lyme, as reported in the following press release, which calls Lyme “the most reported vector-borne disease in the United States. It is an infection transmitted by the bite of a tick infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.”
The release continues thusly:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing that diseases from biting insects, ticks, and mosquitos in the U.S. have tripled since 2004.
Brandon Jutras, a Lyme disease researcher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, says, “Warming temperatures are playing an important role in this increase. Ticks not readily killed due to warmer winters, are coming out earlier in the season and spreading to more northern areas. Another factor likely playing a role in the increase is public and physician awareness.”
There are many misconceptions about ticks and Lyme disease, and Jutras, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and affiliated faculty of the Fralin Life Science Institute, offers several quotes and insights on this issue.
MYTH: All ticks transmit Lyme disease.
“Four major species of ticks are capable of transmitting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, only one of which is found in our area: the blacklegged, or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis.”
Just because you are bitten by a tick, doesn’t mean the tick is carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. After a bite, the disease can take anywhere from 12 to 72 hours to be transmitted, “so prompt removal is critical.”
MYTH: Burning or salting ticks is the only way to remove them.
“NO! This can actually make matters worse. The only appropriate way to remove a tick is to get as close to your skin as possible with fine tweezers and pull.”
MYTH: I would know if I were bitten by a tick.
Not necessarily. “During feeding, ticks are slowly injecting a very complex mixture of salivary components, a few of which act to numb the area. So, unlike a mosquito, most people don’t feel a tick feeding, unless you happen to be allergic to one of the salivary components. …The second stage, nymph, is about the size of a pencil tip. These tics “like the groin, back of the knee, or armpit, which are not obvious or easy places to check regularly.”
MYTH: Everyone with Lyme disease gets a telltale bull’s eye rash
That is a clear sign, but not everyone develops the rash. “… It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of people who acquire Lyme disease do not get the typical rash.”
MYTH: If the test is negative, you don’t have Lyme disease.
“The best diagnostic for Lyme disease is a blood test which measures a patient’s serum for specific antibodies produced in response to certain bacterial products. This type of response can take 1-2 weeks to detect since the body must develop sufficient amounts of antibody, or, titer, to allow for faithful detection.”
Tips for Prevention
“Wear light-colored clothing while enjoying the outdoors and treat these clothes with DEET, or N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide-containing bug spray. … Initial tick contact almost always occurs below your thigh.”
“Don’t skip the dryer when washing your outdoor clothes. Ticks survive the washer and can remain on clean clothes. They do not, however, survive the dryer.”
Tech and the CDC don’t say so in their reports, but I’ve read that lemon oil and lavender oil are great for repelling tics. And they don’t smell bad as the commercial grade insect repellents often do. In fact, I like the smell of both (not to mention they’re a heck of a lot less expensive).