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Lyme Disease

Posted on Jul 21, 2015

I have Lyme disease. Thankfully most people have now heard of Lyme disease, but for those who have not, Lyme borreliosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria of the Borrelia type and transmitted to humans (or pets!) by a black-legged/deer tick bite and subsequent feeding by the parasite. It typically takes 24 or maybe 36-48 hours of feeding for the disease to be transmitted if the tick is a carrier, though this is not a guarantee either direction. Lyme disease can cause flu-like symptoms nearly immediately, and if untreated they can be followed by severe headaches, joint and muscle pains, partial paralysis, tingling sensations, heart and memory problems, and many other severe or possibly fatal complications. This is the second infection for me, and for the second time I was lucky. The first time I had a classic bulls-eye rash on my left that grew to encompass my entire left thigh. Immediate antibiotic treatment essentially cleared me of the disease, though it can never be fully eliminated from your body, and a few times a year since then I have experienced the classic muscle sensations or pain that I felt when I was first infected. I was apparently naturally very strong against the disease as the only symptoms I had while this enormous rash took over my leg were muscle pains and aches, especially in my upper back, shoulders and neck. Some people are bedridden within hours of being bitten and have severe permanent symptoms, so I felt fortunate! Part of my health was the rapidity of treatment because if it takes weeks or months to be detected or treated then Lyme will be very difficult to exterminate.

This is a photo of a nymph deer tick attached to my right thigh from Wednesday, July 8, 2015 that I discovered while at home that evening. I took these two shots very quickly before removing the tick from myself.

Attached Tick-0544

It was feeding on me for an undetermined amount of time and was slightly engorged. I took a pair of tweezers, grasping the head of the tick to ensure I removed all of it, and pulled it out intact. This also serves to prevent squeezing the body and potentially disease or bacteria into your body during removal. You can see how microscopic this nymph is – its legs are the size of tiny hairs!

Attached Tick-0544-3

After removing the tick I put it in this plastic bag, but not to take the photo with the ruler in the background. I knew from past experience to save the tick and take it to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven for testing. Their free service will test the tick for Lyme disease as well as Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis. I brought it in first thing Thursday morning, July 9, and the very next day they emailed me the positive test for Lyme disease. Within 48 hours I had found it, removed it, tested it and learned the results! That is how it should work for everyone. The night I removed the tick I felt a little “off” and suspected I had contracted Lyme once again. It has a unique feeling, and despite the fact that approximately 25% of deer ticks in Connecticut have the disease in any given year, I thought it was my time again.

Attached Tick-0546

I am now on antibiotics that should wipe it from my system, as before, and hopefully all will be well once again. If it is not at least I know that Lyme disease is likely to blame and can pursue further treatment. Lyme takes several weeks to test positive in a human’s blood, and if you do not have the bulls eye rash (as most or at least many people never do) then it can be a silent predator within you. I am usually so good about checking and finding any ticks on me, but this one slipped by me, and it only takes one.

We as RTPI spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to care about the environment, go outdoors, and enjoy nature whenever possible. This story of my experience seems to be the opposite, and in many ways it is. However, I would never be able to live with myself if I did not try to actively educate everyone I saw on the potential of these tick-borne diseases. I want you to go outside and love every minute of it…after taking the usual precautions of vaccinating pets, applying insect repellent, and wearing the proper clothing if you live in a high risk tick area of the Northeast. I also want you to go home, change your clothing, check yourself, children and your pets, and take a shower, and then check yourself again. You are still far more likely to sustain serious injury walking down your front steps to go hiking or getting into a car accident on the way to a nature preserve than suffer any from these diseases. Do not let them stop you from living your life and enjoying nature, but be cautious as you would with anything else, and be aware of what to do if you find yourself with an attached tick.

It is also important to bear in mind these tick epidemics are underway because of our actions, or lack of. We have permitted non-native and invasive species to take a stranglehold on some of our lands – for example, Japanese Barberry is widespread throughout some areas of Connecticut and serve as a safe haven for ticks. Carriers like our White-tailed Deer populations are often far too high without top of the line predators like wolves, and our rodent populations explode around human development, using our homes as shelter and our garbage as food. We are only now starting to see more mammalian predators return to hopefully take out some of the bottom of the food web. Others, like the Timber Rattlesnakes that can consume thousands of ticks indirectly through eating rodents, are nearly expatriated from areas like Connecticut…all due to humans!

We need to continue our conservation, education and advocacy efforts to repair and preserve our environment bearing in mind that our own health and well being is directly tied into every aspect of the world around us.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator