May 2017 - HEALTH
Facts on Ticks, and Symptoms and Treatment for Lyme Disease
By Christina Fisk
Spring has arrived, complete with excellent advice on ways to prevent tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease. But despite everyone’s best intentions, people will get bitten, so then what?
Lyme disease infects nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. each year, and we anticipate a bumper crop of ticks for 2017. Here are some facts you need to know:
A tick needs to be fully attached to your skin to transmit disease. Ticks anaesthetize your skin as they bite, and can remain attached, undetected, for hours or even days. Ticks can transmit pathogens to you in minutes. There is no “safe” time to have a tick attached. If you spot a tick on you:
● Remove It Immediately – Tick removal tools such as the O’Tom Tick Twister, tick spoons, and fine-tipped tweezers are designed for this purpose so that you don’t squeeze the contents of the tick into your skin. Do not stress the tick by putting alcohol or Vaseline on the tick as the stress may cause it to regurgitate the contents of its gut into the wound. Clean your hands and the bite site thoroughly with an antiseptic soap.
● Keep the Tick for Testing – Place it in a zip-lock bag and send to one of these laboratories for testing. When you get your results, share with your doctor.
University of Massachusetts Tick-Report Lab: fee-based but offer quick results and test for coinfections (tickreport.com); Bay Area Lyme Tick Testing: free but takes several weeks for results (bayarealyme.org/lyme-disease-prevention/tick-testing/); Cornell University: good choice for large numbers – six ticks cost $100 (ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/programs/tick/public.cfm).
You’ve Been Bitten – Now What?
There are two treatment protocols for the treatment of tick bites. You can download the most current treatment guidelines, based on up-to-date and unbiased research, currently posted on the National Guideline Clearinghouse – a branch of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services at guideline.gov/summaries/summary/49320. It’s titled “Evidence assessments and guideline recommendations in Lyme disease: the clinical management of known tick bites, erythema migrans rashes and persistent disease.”
Bring these guidelines with you when you see your doctor. You have the right to tell your doctor that you would like to be treated according to these updated guidelines.
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of infection are variable and unpredictable. The most common include joint pain, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, migrating pains or distress, headaches, sometimes a bullseye rash or diffuse, and many others. Sixty-percent of patients never see a tick or rash. Check the list of symptoms on lymeactionnetwork.org.
If you exhibit symptoms, request treatment. Do not wait for a positive blood test. The most common diagnostic tests measure antibodies, but it takes weeks for the body to develop sufficient antibodies to register a positive response, making these serology tests notoriously inaccurate. If your doctor agrees to a course of antibiotic treatment, request treatment according to the above guidelines which recommend no less than 20 days of treatment. Dosing instructions are in the guidelines.
The ELISA and the Western blot, the most common diagnostic tests for Lyme disease are inaccurate about 50% of the time, particularly when done by local labs. If you have a negative blood test, you still may have Lyme disease. IgeneX, a lab in Palo Alto, Calif., offers a better blood test. You can contact them for a kit to bring to your doctor. A more reliable diagnostic test is the Ceres Nanotrap Lyme Antigen test, available from Ceres Labs. Your doctor will need to order this test for you, and most insurance plans will not cover it but you can submit these bills to your insurance, and appeal if necessary.
It is highly INADVISABLE to take a prophylactic dose of two pills. This recommendation is based upon one very small and very flawed study that did not follow the patients beyond a few weeks. This two pill “treatment” may in fact cause more problems down the road. It is also unwise to agree to a treatment of less than 20 days.
For more information, go to the Lyme Action Network’s website at lymeactionnetwork.org, and review the “Learn the Facts” flyer.
Christina Fisk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president of the Lyme Action Network. The Lyme Action Network is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancements in research, education, and advocacy on behalf of the victims of tick-borne diseases.