Thinking outside the Pillbox - Lyme Disease

Tick season is here!  With over 30,000 cases reported in the US in 2009, Lyme has proven to be a devastating and highly idiosyncratic illness, affecting individuals on multiple organ and system levels.  

The causative agent of Lyme is a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochaete belonging to the same family of bacteria as syphilis!  Discovered in the 1970s in Connecticut, the disease is estimated to be carried in 10-30 percent of all ticks.  Upon initial infection a variety of symptoms can arise including a bullseye-shaped rash (known as an ECM), joint swelling/pain, headache and fever.  The long-term effects of the disease are somewhat disputed, but are known to cover a number of rheumotological and neurological conditions including fibromyalgia, persistent headaches and chronic fatigue.

Given the complexity and controversy surrounding lyme, it is important to point out some common misconceptions:

1. Just because you don't get a rash from a tick bite doesn't mean you're lyme-free!  In fact, less than 50 percent of all Lyme patients report having gotten a rash.  

2. Lyme-disease is not strictly a "northeast thing"! Lyme has been discovered in ticks in all 50 states and around the world.  Lyme ticks thrive in densely wooded areas and among pets, so if you are surrounded by either it is important to check your body frequently.  In particular ticks like to embed themselves in warm body spaces (i.e., armpits, behind knee-caps, groin) so these are good places to look.

3. Lyme is often not an isolated infection but is usually accompanied by other infections which can be checked with simple labs tests, including babesiosis, ehrliochosis and bartonella.  These co-infections have serious health implications and should be tested for.

How to protect yourself

Natural insecticides are often a good deterrent for tick-embedding.  More importantly, a visual body check after hiking or walking (particularly in grassy areas) is most effective.  If you do find a tick embedded in your skin, you can send the tick for Lyme testing through IMUGEN.  Please contact us immediately if you are in the Rockland-Westchester area and we can provide you with a kit at our office.  Results usually come within 36 hours which can help with treatment.  A short course of antibiotics is usually effective administered shortly after infection.

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