By Erin K Costello
Once again I read a post from MAM claiming to be a voice of authority on a medical subject or illness simply because she did a few google searches. I’d like to address her post and advice on tick bites, Lyme disease, and what one should do if faced with either. Let’s start at the beginning.
“‘I’ve done a bunch of research since we live on a homestead and have seen a lot of them this year. This is what you need to know."
Ok can we just point out that she’s only just moved in to this new home, has 6 children, and homeschools the majority of those children? On top of this she has chickens, her new garden, and a home to take care of. She has not done a bunch of research, at least not enough to make her an expert on such matters. Don’t get me wrong, I am also not an expert on ticks or Lyme disease, which is why I will not be claiming to be one or giving readers my advice. Instead I am going to rely on what experts say, relay their advice to readers, and also offer links for readers to learn more about what these experts have to say.
“Make sure to look under clothing and in hair, as they like warm places and tend to be in those areas."
She’s not wrong with her suggestions about where to find ticks, however her list of common places is not complete. According to the CDC one should also check under the arms, in and around ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, between the legs, and around the waist.
“If the tick is removed within hours, before it really has a chance to feed, it will likely NOT transmit any disease…even if it is carrying one (which it may not be)."
This is true, however it isn’t that simple since not everyone knows exactly how long the tick has been attached and feeding for. First of all we should note that only the deer tick carries the potential of Lyme disease. However, there are other diseases to consider from the deer tick and other ticks as well. For the purpose of this post we will focus on only Lyme disease but you can find a list of other known diseases and which tick carries them at the cdc.
Getting back to Lyme disease, usually a deer tick has to be feeding for about 36-72 hours before the transmission of the spirochete occurs. One way to determine how long the tick has been attached for it to look at the size of the tick’s gut. If if looks engorged with blood then chances are it’s been attached long enough to trasmit an infection. The organism that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi lies dormant in the inner aspect of the tick’s midgut. The organism will become active after being exposed to warm blood from a meal entering the tick’s gut. Once it becomes active the organism enters the tick’s salivary glands. As the tick continues to feed it must get rid of any extra water through it’s salivary glands, thus expelling the organism into the wound and passing the infection to the host. The chances of contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite is only 1.2 to 1.4 percent since one must live in an area where Lyme disease is common, be bitten by a deer tick, be bitten by an infected deer tick, and the tick must be attached long enough to pass on the infection.
“To remove a tick — grasp it by the head and pull it out."
Again, it’s not quite that simple. The proper technique in removing a tick is to use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, pull backwards gently but firmly and be sure NOT to jerk or twist the tick, and do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick. If any parts of the tick are still attached to the skin after removing the tick, they should be left alone to fall out on their own. Trying to remove them further could result in serious skin trauma.
“You can save the tick, BUT, testing is rarely worth it"
Whereas this is true, it’s still not a bad idea to save the tick if you aren’t sure what kind of tick it is that bit you. If you are bit by a tick you should call your physician and follow his/her advice on what your next steps should be. Saving the tick while doing this can help confirm what kind of tick it was that bit you.
“Ticks do not like neem oil or geranium essential oil, so you can use bug repellent like these to keep them off you."
No. Just no. There are a few insect repellents registered by the EPA. This registration means that the technical information regarding the safety of the product and it’s effectiveness against mosquitoes and/or ticks has been provided by the company to the EPA. The technical information is based upon scientific testing guidelines and approved study methods. You can use the CDC’s search tool to find a repellent that’s right for you. The active ingredients in any EPA registered tick repellents is IR3535 (in Avon products), DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.
“If you are worried, you can immediatly give immune boosters like astragalus root, elderberry and echinacea. Wash the bite and put drawing salve on it (bentonite clay or activated charcoal paste) if you are concerned it has been there for more than a few hours."
Sure, you can do all these things, but they won’t prevent the onset of Lyme disease if you’ve been exposed. The best thing you can do is call your physician. Your physician will most likely tell you to come in for testing in about 4 weeks. In the past the common course of treatment was to give preventative antibiotics immediately after removing the tick. However doing this can cause for a false negative on a blood test weeks later when testing for Lyme disease. Since Lyme disease is completely treatable and curable at any stage of the illness it is recommended that the patient be tested for Lyme disease about 4 weeks after possible exposure, or upon the appearance of signs or symptoms of Lyme disease, whichever comes first. If the test shows positive for Lyme disease then a round of antibiotics is commonly prescribed. Untreated Lyme disease can lead to late stage Lyme disease and cause serious health complications and even death. It is important to treat Lyme disease as early as it appears in symptoms or on a blood test. Even though late stage Lyme disease is treatable and curable, the treatment often required is more aggressive and will often include weeks of IV antibiotics.
“Ticks do bite, and Lyme is serous…but don’t completely freak out over every tick sighting. Carefully weigh the risks and benefits of different options, and look to natural remedies first, espeically initially."
No one said you must “freak out” over any tick bites, let alone any tick sightings. However, the best people to weigh the risks and benefits of each option are you and your doctor, not you and MAM. There are an estimated 300,000 cases of Lyme disease a year in the US. Please do not take health advice from MAM, or any other unlicensed stranger on the internet. They do not have the education, or the personal knowledge of your medical history to accurately determine a prognosis or treatment specifically for you and your needs. If you ever think you may have been exposed to Lyme disease, or aren’t sure if you might have been exposed to Lyme disease, please contact your physician's office and discuss your concerns with your doctor. He/she will be able to determine the best course of action for you and your health care needs.