One of the most devastating chronic conditions I treat in my practice is something we all need to be aware of – because it’s literally right in our own backyards: Lyme disease!
Lyme disease is no longer a rare condition affecting people who live out in rural Connecticut (Lyme disease originated in Lyme, CT); it’s something we all need to think about if we spend anytime outdoors, have pets, or even if you and your kids just play in your suburban front yard.
By all measures, Lyme disease cases are growing in numbers in affected regions that are used to the disease, and it’s geographic reach is expanding. The northeastern states, saw a more than 320% jump in counties with a high incidence in the past few years, from 43 counties to 182 most recently. A 250% increase was seen in the north-central states. Amongst eight doctors, nurses, and nutritionists I recently had dinner with, 3 had been diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease in the past couple of years – 2 successfully and one, sadly, with lingering symptoms after too short a course of antibiotics (only 2 weeks) was administered after Lyme disease symptoms started.
Prevent Disease & Do “Tick Checks”
The best way to treat Lyme disease is prevention – keep the grass short around your house, appropriately treat your pets for ticks, tuck your pants into your socks when you go for hikes, and do a thorough tick check each evening on all family members if you live in an area with Lyme disease — even if you’ve just be outdoors causally. Essential oils on your clothes may help a bit, too, though I’m not sure how much.
I can’t tell you how many Lyme ticks are found on someone simply after they took the dog for a walk in a grassy area. Ticks like to hang out in warm places, but can be anywhere on the body. My husband found one just inside his belly button once! So check the common places – groin, hair, behind the ears, but also do a full body “once over.” Deer tick nymphs are tiny.
Here’s a picture from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If You Find a Tick
If you do find a tick on yourself or a family member, here’s what you should do:
- If it has not bitten into the skin at all (meaning you can easily and simply lift if off of the skin, or it’s still crawling around), simply remove it with your fingers and destroy it (I recommend flushing it down the toilet). There is no need for medical treatment if the tick has not bitten you (is not attached), but if there’s one tick, there could be more, so do a tick check that day, and again the next.
- If the tick has latched on, remove it promptly as follows:
- If available, use tweezers or small forceps to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. In the absence of tweezers, use paper or cloth to protect the fingers during tick extraction.
- Pull straight up gently but firmly, using steady pressure. Do not jerk or twist.
- Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick, since its fluids may contain infectious agents.
- Disinfect the skin thoroughly after removing the tick and wash hands with soap and water.
- If sections of the mouthparts of the tick remain in the skin, they should be left alone as they will normally be expelled spontaneously.
- After the tick removal and the skin cleansing, the person bitten (or the parents) should observe the area for the development of EM for up to 30 days following exposure. Components of tick saliva can cause redness that should not be confused with erythema migrans (EM) or the classic bulls-eye rash.
Since the tick usually needs to be attached for two to three days before transmission of Lyme disease occurs, removing the tick within this time frame often prevents infection.
When to Take an Antibiotic
If the tick has been bitten in, and you suspect it’s been more than 24 hrs, or you’re just not sure, then I recommend a single dose of doxycycline for anyone over 8 years old and not pregnant or breastfeeding, and a longer course if the tick has been on longer than 24 hrs.
For younger children, pregnant and nursing mommas, see your doctor for the appropriate antibiotic recommendations.
Remain alert for Lyme disease symptoms in the ensuing weeks. Only about 50% of people who get Lyme disease ever had a bulls-eye rash, and most never saw the tick that bit them! What you want to look out for are flu-like symptoms — fever, headache, generalized aching and painful joints are the most common early symptoms.
If there are any suspected Lyme disease symptoms, I recommend full course of 1 month of antibiotics, particularly if there was tick bite, rash, or not, or simply if it is tick season (spring thru early autumn) and you are in a region with Lyme bearing ticks (which is a pretty wide range of places!).
This is not the time to be worrying about antibiotic overuse – and you know that if I’m saying that, given how ardent I am about avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, it’s fo’ real, momma!
For younger children, pregnant and nursing mommas, antibiotics are also needed – but see your doctor for the appropriate antibiotic treatment.
Protecting Your Gut and Mitochondria from Antibiotic Damage
A probiotic can be given along with and for a few months post antibiotic treatment, and if long term antibiotics are required, the probiotic continued and mitochondral support added in (l-carnitine, B6, d-ribose, co-Q10) because some antibiotics can have an effect on these little powerhouse organelles that live in our cells.
Stay safe, be smart, and have fun!