When I contracted Lyme disease in 2011, I had no idea that it was as serious and complicated a disease as I soon learned. May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, a time for people to gain some knowledge about how to protect themselves and their dogs from this debilitating illness.
Here are ten things I didn’t know about Lyme disease before I contracted it.
1. Not everyone gets “the rash.” Lyme disease is characterized by a bull’s eye rash called Erythema chronicum migrans, which occurs at the site of the tick bite three days to one month after the bite. According to the Center for Disease Control, only 70-80% of people bitten get the rash. This is quite scary because the rash is the clinical sign that most doctors use to diagnose Lyme. If you don’t get the rash, but were bitten by an infected tick (and perhaps didn’t realize you were bitten), you may not get diagnosed until it’s far too late to treat the disease easily.
2. Lyme disease occurs in all of the connected 48 states. Contrary to popular belief, Lyme disease is not localized to Connecticut. It occurs in the state where you live (unless you’re in Alaska or Hawaii, in which case, you’re in luck!). Be careful!
3. Lyme disease is incredibly hard to diagnose in humans. The tests for Lyme disease are sorely inaccurate and may give false negatives to a Lyme victim for years. This is due to the way Lyme works in the body – it suppresses the immune system and doesn’t allow the victim to make Lyme antibodies, and tests only look for antibodies, not the Lyme bacteria.
4. If caught too late, Lyme disease can become chronic. Lyme disease can be cured with simple antibiotics in the first few weeks of infection. Left untreated beyond that, Lyme patients may become seriously ill and antibiotics can be ineffective.
5. Lyme disease can be fatal. People die from complications due to Lyme disease. The Lyme bacterium affects every organ and tissue in the body, including the brain and heart.
6. Lyme disease often comes with “bonus diseases.” Other tick borne infections can be found in Lyme patients, including Bartonella (Cat Scratch Fever), Babesia, Ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tick Borne Relapsing Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, and many others. The Lyme patient must heal from these diseases as well, making treatment far more complex.
7. You can’t get Lyme disease from your dog, nor can you give it to your dog. Lyme disease is passed to a human or dog by a “vector” animal, typically a tick, though some reports say that Lyme can be passed by fleas and mosquitoes too. The tick bites a mouse or deer (or other animal) infected with the Lyme bacteria, and then passes it along in its next meal.
8. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. Just because you or your dog are bitten by a tick does note mean that either of you will get Lyme disease, or any other disease. Some ticks, like the American Dog Tick, are less likely to carry Lyme, according to the CDC.
9. Removing a tick with tweezers is not the only way to disengage it. Tweezers have long been the recommended method of removing a tick, but it can be difficult to remove the entire tick this way (the head of the tick), and can be hard for squeamish people. There’s a new, all natural tick removal solution on the market called Tick-SR – it safely removes ticks without irritating them and without you having to touch the tick or the bite site. It also contains a natural disinfectant.
10. Lyme is a controversial disease. This is a weird one. It’s very hard for human Lyme patients to get treatment coverage from their insurance companies, and some people, including doctors, don’t even believe that Lyme disease exists. The explanation is very long, but it has to do with conflicts of interest and politics. If you want to learn more about it, see the Lyme documentary, Under Our Skin, available on Netflix.