Lyme Disease, the Quiet Epidemic
Tick Season is upon us ~ What do we need to know?
By Dr. Jason Bachewich BSc., ND.
It’s that wonderful time of year where everyone is out hiking, biking and enjoying nature, so here’s a few things you need to know about the trouble with ticks!
Lyme disease was typically categorized as a serious disease affecting a few unlucky individuals. Now this disease is affecting hundreds of people every year! The textbook symptoms include a bull’s-eye rash, fever and progressive neurological decline. However, recent discoveries have begun to explain why so few people are getting the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia bacteria that are introduced to the human host through an insect bite, most commonly that of the black legged tick. Ticks are spread by deer, rodents (mice), song birds and a recent German study confirmed, mosquitos! The most likely place for you to encounter ticks is in wooded areas, long grass and transition zones (eg. long grass around edges of roads). Check out Manitoba’s surveillance map to see if your area is high risk;
The key is to avoid being bit in the first place!
-Tick checks daily! Including your pets, as this is a common route for ticks to get into the home and on you.
-Wear long socks over your pants, or rubber boots.
-Consider spraying a DEET containing insect repellant on your shoes, socks or pants. We do not recommend applying directly on the skin. There are numerous essential oil containing “tick repellents,” that although have no scientific backing, might be effective.
If you find a tick attached:
Use fine-pointed tweezers, grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly until the tick is removed. Do not twist or rotate the tick. Do not use a match, lotion or anything else that might stress the tick.
Do I save the tick???
If you would like to get the tick tested to see if it is positive for bacteria, simply put it in a ziplock bag and you can bring it to Nature Doctors for testing. Test is sent to Germany and costs around $150 depending on exchange rates.
This can be helpful if you don’t have any immediate reactions, but are concerned that there was transmission.
You can submit information about your tick to the Manitoba government for surveillance:
Symptoms to be on the look out for:
It can take 2 – 32 days after a bite by an infected tick, for symptoms to appear, be on the look out for the following:
-Circular, red rash (bulls-eye), but the appearance of the rash may vary. The rash may slowly expand around the tick bite (3 out of 10 people have no rash).
-Fever, Chills, Headache
-Muscle or Joint soreness
-Swollen lymph nodes, red eyes
-Numbness, tingling, spasms, weakness, jaw pain
These initial symptoms may go away after a few days to weeks, and then reoccur a month or two later. The symptoms can progress to the point of paralysis
Early treatment is key, with the most common and effective medication -Doxycycline, a type of antibiotic. However, many individuals are not diagnosed properly because they do not have the “typical” reactions, or the timing of the illness does not appear correct (most ticks bite in early May, June and July with symptoms appearing shortly after). Many of my patients come in with symptoms that start in the fall or even December for reasons that I will detail shortly.
It has been documented that Lyme disease can be transmitted through other types of insect bites. We now know that the nymphs or baby ticks that come out in the fall can transmit the parasite through a bite. These baby ticks are small, translucent and hard to see. One other complicating factor is that the Borrelia bacteria was typically thought to need tick attachment for 24 hours to transmit the bug but there are documented cases of the tick transmitting it within hours.
Manitoba Health is often criticized for not having accurate testing methodologies, hence the reason so few humans are diagnosed. Last year there were over 1500 cases of Lyme disease documented in dogs in Manitoba, while less than 100 human cases. There are over 50 species of Borrelia and even the most sensitive tests cannot test for everyone. Cross reactivity of membrane proteins often lead to a lot of borderline positive reactions but not enough to gain a diagnosis. That is not to mention the other parasitic co-infections that can occur such as Bartonella, Babesia and Erlichiosis. These infections also produce Lyme like symptoms but would not show up on Lyme testing in Manitoba.
If you or someone you know is suffering with fatigue, joint pain, headaches, foggy brain, tingling and/or other neurological problems, but have not been able to get answers as to the cause, I would advise getting tested for Lyme disease and the co-infections. Find a doctor that specializes in the field and utilizes the latest laboratory testing. We currently use labs located in the United States and Germany. These labs are often expensive to run, in the neighborhood of $750 to $2500 but can often be the difference between having a diagnosis and treatment, or not.
For more information on Lyme disease, please refer to www.canlyme.com
Dr. Jason Bachewich ND is the clinical director at Nature Doctors ~Naturopathic Family Medicine located in Winnipeg. His practice has a focus on Lyme disease, co-infections and hidden viral infections. His life has been personally affected by Lyme disease, and that has inspired him to create a clinic providing the best possible care.