Every gardener, whether they are a seasoned pro or an insecure novice, has gone head-to-head with some type of pest, i.e. mosquitoes, ants, beetles, etc. With luck, vigilance and supplies from the local garden center, the gardener is usually victorious. But our lives are gardens too: remember? When a pest like the Deer Tick attacks your garden, the result can be Chronic Lyme Disease (CLD).
Lyme Disease is a caused by a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi). Patients are infected from a tick bite. Because the immature ticks, or nyphms, are extremely small many people don’t even realize that they’ve been bitten. So the tick can literally attach itself and feed for days, unnoticed. And the longer it is attached, the more likely it is to pass Lyme and/or another pathogen into the body.
With summer activities and trips on the increase, it’s important to take notice and precautions. Lyme Disease has been found on all but one continent. It has been found throughout the U.S., but it has substantially higher numbers in the Upper East Coast, the Midwest and along the West Coast. Not all ticks carry Lyme. The Deer Tick, also known as the Black-legged Tick, is the culprit. These ticks can also transmit the disease to pets. Researchers have found the bacterium in other blood-sucking insects, i.e. mosquitoes. But there is no evidence that they are capable of spreading Lyme Disease.
Ticks enjoy wooded areas … grassy fields … brush … even your backyard. They live on animals as well. To help prevent a tick bite, treat your clothing and gear for camping or hiking trips. Use EPA-approved insect repellents that contain DEET. However it is important to avoid using repellents on babies, under 2 months of age. Examine your clothing, gear and pets. Shower after being outdoors. Carefully, check your body. All of these things will greatly reduce your risk of a tick adhering to your skin.
If you are bitten, do not panic. Remove the tick with tweezers, as soon as possible. You will see a small, red bump. This isn’t unusual. The symptoms of Lyme Disease will appear, from 3-30 days after a person has been bitten. So, stay alert. If a rash appears, often in a bull’s eye pattern, you have probably been bitten by an infected tick. The rash may not even be painful, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Flu-like symptoms are also common, i.e. chills, fever, fatigue, headache, etc. If you experience any of these, you should contact your doctor. Untreated, the symptoms of Lyme Disease will worsen. The rash will become more widespread on your body. Other symptoms will appear, i.e. joint pain, neurological issues, etc. Heart, Eye and Liver problems have also been known to occur. And no two cases are exactly alike.
There are two tests that are widely used to confirm Lyme Disease: the ELISA test (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) and the Western Blot test. The latter is administered, if the ELISA is positive. This confirms your diagnosis. Other tests may also be implemented, i.e. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Antigen Detection. Lyme Disease is initially treated with antibiotics. It may be done orally, or by an IV. Treatment lasts from 10-28 days. And for most patients it is effective.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s statistics, there are approximately 300K cases of Lyme Disease diagnosed in the U.S. each year. And the numbers are increasing. About 30-40% of these cases will result in Chronic Lyme Disease, or Post-Treatment Lyme Disease (PTLD) as it is also known. These patients are profoundly affected. Patients with CLD suffer with quality of life issues that are worse than many other Chronic illnesses, i.e. Asthma, Depression, Diabetes, Fibromyalgia, even Congestive Heart Failure. Approximately 75% of the patients surveyed by lymedisease.org reported at least one severe symptom. And 63% reported two or more. Of those surveyed, 40% reported that they were unable to work. About 24% have received disability, at some point. Children with Lyme Disease may have special needs. They may have difficulties in the classroom. This isn’t the common cold. This is a long-term illness.
If you or a loved one is living with Chronic Lyme Disease, then you know the battle all too well. It is important to communicate changes in your symptoms to your doctor. Keep appointments. Take your medications. Rest. Try to maintain a level of optimism. Every victory, no matter how small, is worth celebrating. You are not alone, in this fight. But you may sometimes feel that way. Let’s be honest, your new normal feels anything but normal. Anyone with a Chronic illness can relate to that. Many Chronic illnesses are marked by flare-ups, when symptoms worsen. It’s never convenient, but you CAN do it. Adjusting to your illness isn’t easy, but it will help you to manage it. Connecting with support groups/organizations can also help, either in meetings or online. Yes, you have Chronic Lyme Disease. But you also have a life. You have plans. Dreams. Ideas to share. Places to go. So, enjoy every day to the fullest. This is your garden and it’s beautiful. It’s unique. It’s you!
* Photo by Andreas Ronnigen on Unsplash