What I didn’t know about ticks and Lyme disease might kill you

deer tickMy attempt to alert you to the dangers of ticks and Lyme disease apparently fell far short of the mark. I am thankful to all who added information, in posts and emails. The earlier column, titled “Your best defense against Lyme disease is a plastic spoon,” certainly drew a lot of interest, with more than 31,000 readers putting me at the top of the Bangor Daily News bloggers list that week.

A couple of things happened to me personally after that column was published. First, my daughter Rebekah called to say one of our grandsons had been bitten by a tick. She contacted her pediatrician, who told her not to worry, that they don’t test ticks or treat kids until symptoms of Lyme or other diseases appear. That advice was soooo wrong!

I put Rebekah in touch with Representative Jim Dill, a University professor, legislator, and one of the state’s top experts on insects, and he arranged to have the tick shipped to a Boston lab for testing. No results yet.

A week later, Linda and I were in Texas on a birding adventure at Big Bend National Park. When we met Cynta, the lady who owned the small house we rented for that week, she told us she had Lyme disease. For 20 years they told her she had Lupus, and then she tested positive for Lyme. I will tell you her story another time.

I’d been told that Lyme is only present in the northeastern United States, but Cynta said she got it in Colorado. Clearly, there is more to learn. A few key recommendations from readers, sent in response to my first column, stand out. Here they are.

Readers’ recommendations

From Kynama Wald:  This is not good advice!  Ticks are too serious to just buy a spoon and think you’ll be OK. You should purchase a tick remover. They come with instructions on how to properly remove a tick.  Stay on trails, check often for ticks. Check your pets for ticks.  Never touch a tick with your bare hands. Wear boots, socks, and long pants and a long shirt if you are going through any brush.  If you are bit by a tick, get the IDEXX test for Lyme disease and start treatment immediately.  My sister has this too. We spend over $2,000 a month just for treatment so she can live a somewhat normal life.  This is VERY SERIOUS. Lyme disease is found all over the U.S. and in every single county in California – especially in Northern CA.

From Vonn New:  This is not really very good advice.  It only works for adults ticks that you find already attached. Many Lyme infections are caused by the nymphs, which you will never see or know you were bitten.  Better is to prevent the ticks from getting on you by using insect repellent while outdoors and if you are in tick-rich areas, wear clothes that are treated with tick-killing chemicals.  Treat pets with flea/tick preventative and check them thoroughly when they come in the house.  If you do get bitten, get checked right away and start a course of treatment immediately.  Also, do not trust blood tests.  The most popular ones give both false negatives and false positives.

From Heather Currier: You can get tick removal spoons for free if you contact Atlantic Pest Solutions.

From A.m. Superior: Another helpful thing – A tick identification card! (Can also be used to remove ticks!). Contact; Laboratory of Medical Zoology, University of Massachusetts, 209 Fernald Hall, 270 Stockton Road, Amherst, MA, 01003. Email: LMZ@UMASS.EDU. Card shows Deer, Dog & Lonestar ticks, is clear so you can compare size, which makes identification really easy, and can easily be used to remove the ticks just like the Ticked Off spoon. For a small donation (+- $5.00) they will send you all the cards you want! I carry a card in my truck, my car, my hunting pack, the dog’s equipment bag, and every first aid kit – human and canine!

From Happy Viles Dickey, RN: Thanks for alerting your readers to the risk of tick bites! As many folks know, the ticks are active anytime the temp is above freezing, and the long cold winter probably did little to reduce our risk. I do want you to read this critique of the one-dose of doxycycline recommendation that you are making.
http://www.ilads.org/lyme_disease/written_testimony/5%20Maloney-Prophylaxis.pdf
You may want to rethink this recommendation in the future. Not only does it probably not work, but it can do harm. You were probably lucky that those tick bites for which you received the one dose of doxycycline, were not infected ticks. And don’t forget that ticks carry many other pathogens in addition to Lyme disease and the transmission time can be much less, and the treatment options may be different or nil. Changing our habits to include tick hygiene are necessary, just like wearing a seat belt, a bike helmet, or life jacket.

deer tick spoonMike Edgecomb offered this link: www.Tickedoff.com, for a good look at the plastic spoon I recommended and use to remove ticks.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.