Tick Bites, Lyme Disease & Your Health | prevention, diagnosis & treatment
Apr 14, 2018
Lyme Disease is a growing issue throughout the world
, creating a significant health crisis. If you follow me on social media, you know that I'm an advocate of organic food and natural approaches to health and wellbeing, speaking out against products that contain harmful ingredients and the companies that produce them.
When discussing Lyme Disease, it's imperative to talk about the medical reality attached to this issue. Let me state, for the record, that the information that I share here is not a substitute for medical advice or care. Please use this information at your own discretion and share it with your primary health practitioner. The information available about Lyme Disease is changing daily, so please investigate any further developments; I have included resources throughout this article so that you can continue your own research.
What is Lyme Disease?
There is no simple answer. Searching the internet, you'll discover this answer, “Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.”
Unfortunately, it's much more complicated than that.
As it turns out, Borrelia burgdorferi is only one of many bacteria that can be transmitted by these ticks; bacteria and parasites that can cause a host of infections which complicate Lyme symptoms. A patient with Lyme Disease can become infected with any combination of 20 different coinfections (at last count) including Chlamydia, Rickettsiosis, Anaplasma, Babesia, Mycoplasma and Ehrlichia.
Why is Lyme Disease called "Lyme Disease"?
In the early 1970s, a group of rheumatoid arthritis cases occurred among children in Lyme, Connecticut. Puzzled by the number of cases and the age of the patients, researchers looked at several possible causes, such as contact with germs (microbes) in water or air. Realizing that most of the children with arthritis lived and played near wooded areas, they began to focus their attention on deer ticks. The children’s first symptoms typically started during the summer, the height of tick season. Several children reported having a skin rash just before developing arthritis and many of them recalled being bitten by a tick where the rash appeared. (Note: we now know that the bullseye rash can appear anywhere on the body, not just in the area where a bite has occurred.) In the mid-1970s, researchers began describing the signs and symptoms of this new disease, now termed Lyme Disease, to help physicians diagnose patients. However, it was not until 1981 that researchers at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, identified the cause of Lyme Disease making the connection between deer ticks and the disease.
What is a tick?
Ticks are small arachnids (yes, they have eight legs and are related to spiders) that are in the same subclass as mites. They can range in colour from different shades of brown to reddish brown and black. Generally located in wooded areas, ticks can be found pretty much anywhere as birds and animals they feed on (deer!) carry them everywhere. There are about 900 species of ticks in the world (80 species living in the United states and about 40 species in Canada). It is thought that only a few species can transmit Lyme Disease; that is up for debate. According to Lyme Disease expert Stephen Harrod Buhner, the "Borrelia spirochetes are present in a variety of other biting arthropods, such as mosquitos, mites, fleas and biting flies and transmission through some of these routes has been documented."
Ticks are ectoparasites, which means they live off the blood of mammals, birds and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. Ticks prefer warm, moist areas of the body so once a tick gets on your body, it is likely to migrate to your armpits, groin, genitals or scalp. When ticks find a desirable spot, they bite into your skin and begin drawing blood. Tick bites are painless; you cannot feel a tick crawl on your body, bite your skin or embed its head in your body. Unlike many other bugs that bite, ticks typically remain attached to your body after they bite you. As they draw in more blood, ticks become engorged and can grow to the size of your thumbnail. When a tick has been feeding on the host for several days or weeks, their engorged body will turn a greenish blue colour. After several days or weeks of drawing blood, an engorged tick can detach itself and fall off.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease and how to diagnose it
Your doctor may have a difficult time diagnosing Lyme Disease as many of the symptoms are similar to other illnesses, such as the flu. You may or may not experience a combination of the following : a high temperature, aches, chills, disorientation, nausea, vomiting, migraine, joint pain, light sensitivity, lack of coordination, vertigo, stiff neck and fatigue. The bullseye rash is the only symptom that is unique to Lyme Disease, though not everyone infected with Lyme bacteria develops the rash. Conversely, you can also have the bullseye rash appear and not experience any of the other overt flu-like symptoms.
In April 2015, my nephew was bitten by a tick and had the rash appear 5 days later. He felt mild symptoms of fatigue and nausea, with these symptoms passing prior to the bullseye rash appearing. At the time, he put these symptoms down to something he ate. When the bullseye rash appeared, my sister took him to the hospital and he was given a short course of antibiotics for the potential of Lyme Disease.
Beginning in Spring 2014, my nephew had been experiencing slowly developing symptoms. He had experienced swelling in one finger and then another. He lifts weights and thought it was just a soft tissue injury. Then one of his toes started to swell, then another finger. Within 12 months he was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis (PA), a form of arthritis that includes symptoms of psoriasis.
My nephew was prescribed Methotrexate, an immunity-suppressing drug. When asked about the underlying cause of PA, his Rheumatologist determined it was "bad luck", claiming the causes were unknown. We started to suspect that his PA might have something to do with Lyme Disease caused by an undetected bite in the Spring of 2014, so asked for further testing including a Lyme Disease test. Much to his doctor's surprise, the test came back positive.
Unfortunately, his Rheumotologist recommended continuing Methotrexate while being treated for Lyme. This treatment recommendation was declined, and demonstrates the disturbing lack of information about Lyme Disease and the lack of intergration of the various arms of the medical system : treatment for Lyme Disease should not include any suppression of the immune system, especially during active treatment.
As of October 2015, my nephew was being actively treated for Lyme Disease with allopathic medicine and holistic supports (they're listed below). As of April 2017, he was still expereincing symptoms of swelling and pain in 2 of his fingers, was no longer on allopathic medication and continues holistic supports, including a restricted diet.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that a tick must be attached to your body for at least 36 hours to transmit Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, the latest information from the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society website states, "While the longer the tick is attached, the higher the risk of transmission, it is possible to get Lyme Disease even if the tick is attached for less than 24 hours. The salivary juices of the tick, which contain anticoagulants, anesthetics, and immune suppressors, also contain microbes that can be injected at the time of attachment. Transmission of bacteria by ticks attached less than 24 hours has been well documented in animals, and a recent paper ... documented that this can occur in humans as well."
This was the case for my nephew. The tick he had on his body was only there for a few hours, yet he still developed the classic bullseye rash at the site of the tick bite. It's important to remember that although transmission cannot occur without the tick bite, up to 50% of people may not remember being bitten because the deer tick is tiny and its bite is usually painless. The scariest thing is that a tick can be as small as the period at the end of this sentence.
If you have symptoms of Lyme Disease without the distinctive rash, your doctor will need to rely on questions such as “Have you have been outdoors in an area where Lyme Disease is common?” and “Do you remember being bitten by a tick?” Your doctor should perform a physical exam and run laboratory tests to check for the presence of antibodies to B. burgdorferi to help provide a diagnosis. Unfortunately, the tests used are not always accurate.
According to Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation
“The Myth… I was tested for Lyme Disease at the provincial lab and the results were negative. I guess that means I can't have Lyme.
The Truth… Actually, that’s untrue. Evidence suggests that Canada’s Lyme testing methods are flawed. False negative test results are common, especially in the early stages of Lyme. It takes time for antibodies to develop, so early tests often miss the bacteria. Contrary to bureaucratic statements, late stage Lyme Disease antibody testing is much less accurate.
Testing for Lyme Disease can be very challenging – in fact, many patients receive several false negatives before being correctly diagnosed. To avoid misdiagnosis, it’s critical that you identify your symptoms and are tested by a doctor as soon as possible.
Why Lyme is tough to diagnose?
- Lyme symptoms are similar to other illnesses, so misdiagnosis is common.
- Many Canadian doctors are unfamiliar with Lyme, so they don’t test for it or administer the wrong tests.
- Only a handful of blood tests effectively detect Lyme bacteria, so the infection is often missed.
Don’t get discouraged if you get a negative diagnosis. Seek out second, and even third, opinions if you must!”
Co-Infections & Chronic Lyme Disease
It takes a few weeks, once infected with B. burgdorferi, to produce antibodies against the bacteria. Unfortunately, this can lead to a delay in treatment. Patient advocate groups suggest that this delay can increase symptoms and make the disease more difficult to treat.
Additionally, there are co-infections that can occur that complicate treatment; Patient advocate groups, and some medical experts, now believe that those with these co-infections often don’t respond well to the usual treatments. It may take an experienced doctor to properly identify and treat each tick-borne infection. Co-infection generally results in a more severe illness and a longer recovery time. If you feel you may have Lyme Disease, you can take the Horowitz Lyme MSIDS Questionaire by clicking here
. This does not replace medical diagnosis and treatment. It gives you more information to work with.
Though it's anecdotal, I know a number of people who are dealing with what is now being called ‘Chronic Lyme Disease’. This topic is very controversial so, I recommend reviewing the following websites for more information :
Lyme Disease misdiagnosis
It is now starting to be understood that many lyme victims are commonly misdiagnosed with other illnesses. This is both frustrating and dangerous for the person afflicted with this disease. It means that treatment can be either delayed or incorrect. The following chart was taken from the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation
If you have a sudden onset one of these conditions and live or visited an area where ticks are present, you may consider being tested for Lyme Disease. I would add type Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA) to this list. This is also unofficially known as type 1.5 Diabetes.
In the USA, doctors that have experience diagnosing and treating Lyme Disease frequently use one of two antibody tests as a first-level screening : the ELISA and Western Bot. According to Lyme Disease expert, Stephen Harrod Buhner, these 2 tests can only detect 60% of those with Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, the other tests available (such as PCR, CXCL13 and CD57) are not much better. Apparently, "...the 'Advanced Laboratory Lyme' test is averaging a 92 percent accuracy for diagnosing Lyme infection. The downside is that it takes two to four months. For long-standing Lyme infections have refused to be diagnosed through other testing methods, this might be a good choice."
For more information about the work of Stephen Harrod Buhner, click here
If you are experiencing ongoing symptoms, in spite of a negative Lyme Disease test result, it is important to continue to seek help.
Whether you have Lyme Disease or not, you should not let your symptoms be left undiagnosed, and therefore, untreated. The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS) is an international resource that continues to update information on Lyme Disease. Check out their website for more information
Treatment for Lyme Disease
Antibiotics are prescribed to treat Lyme Disease to help speed healing of the bullseye rash and keep symptoms, such as arthritis and nervous system problems, from developing. In general, the sooner treatment begins, the quicker and more complete the recovery. I have been asked if Lyme Disease can be treated without the use of antibiotics. I feel, given the nature and severity of this disease, this is one of those cases where I feel grateful to have a medical treatment that works in some cases! Unfortunately, treatment with antibiotics does not work in ALL cases, so it is very important to follow up any allopathic treatment with other holistic supports, as described in the section below.
After receiving treatment for Lyme Disease, patients may still experience muscle or joint pain and symptoms that relate to the nervous system, such as trouble with memory and concentration. Researchers continue to investigate the ideal length for a course of antibiotics for the various symptoms that can result from Lyme Disease. I, personally, know 2 people who are on long-term antibiotic treatments for arthritic symptoms arising from confirmed cases of Lyme Disease. When they stop the antibiotics, the arthritic symptoms return. Having Lyme Disease does not make you immune to reinfection; individuals previously infected and diagnosed with Lyme Disease can be infected again if bitten by an infected tick.
In June 2014, a second nephew was treated for Lyme Disease. He does not remember being bitten by a tick, so his initial symptoms were undiagnosed. Unlike his brother (the one mentioned above), his symptoms were severe. He experienced a temperature of 105oF, body aches, chills, disorientation, nausea, mind-numbing migraines, profound joint pain, sensitivity to light, lack of coordination, vertigo, stiff neck, Bell’s palsy and extreme fatigue. He could barely move! Meningitis was ruled out fairly quickly, and our whole family was so frightened because we had no idea what was going on.
Five days later, and 3 trips to the hospital, a large bullseye rash came up on his leg. It was a huge relief to find out what it was. Unfortunately, dealing with 2 doctors at the hospital led to a discrepancy in diagnosis – even after the bullseye rash appeared.
My sister advocated that my nephew be treated for Lyme Disease and he was placed on the oral antibiotic Teva-Doxycycline. Within 24 hours his fever started to diminish and his symptoms calmed a bit. It took 2 months to fully recover, though he was well on his way to feeling better within 72 hours.
My nephew underwent testing for Lyme Disease. We waited for 2 months to get the results and they came back negative. Fortunately, he didn't need to wait that long for treatment!
Holistic support for treating Lyme Disease
As soon as my nephew began antibiotic treament for Lyme Disease, my sister started to support him with supplements and holistic therapists (chiropractor, osteopath, acupuncturist and massage therapist). Because of her extensive investigation and research into Lyme Disease, she pulled out all the stops; she knew that Lyme Disease could take a real toll.
Below is a list of the holistics supports she used to treat her son's symptoms. I provide this list for information only. It is not meant as a recommendation for treatment. Please do your own investigative work and discuss these treatments with your Naturopathic Doctor or Holistic Medical Doctor prior to using them.
- Strict no-sugar, no-grain, Paleo-Keto Diet to deny the disease anything to live on! Consider the delicious protocol laid out in my book, Hot Detox. You may need to remove all sweeteners and remain on a low carbohydrate protocol for an extended period of time.
- Celt Immuno-Care – 1 tablet, 2Xs daily.
- 50 Billion Probiotic – 2Xs daily away from antibiotic. (My nephew used Genestra HMF Forte; you may need to rotate your probiotics to find the one that works for you.
- AlliMax Garlic – 4 capsules per day. Helps to kill stubborn infections and parasites.
- Wobenzyme – Start with 1 tablet and work up to 4 tablets. Take in the AM on a completely empty stomach with 8 oz of water. Helps to break down the bacteria biofilm.
- MS+ – 2 capsules, 2Xs daily. Helps heal your bowel.
- Digestive Enzyme – Helps digest your food when your digestive system is compromised.
- Curcumin Active by AOR – 2 capsules per day. Helps reduce inflammation.
- Ascenta Nutra-Sea HP – 1 tbsp per day. Helps support your nervous system, bowel, joints and brain fuction.
- Lyme Ease by Harmonic Arts – 30 drops in water, 2Xs daily. Helps support you immune system with Cat's Claw, Andrographis, Smilax, Ashwagandha, Teasel Root and Japanese Knotweed.
- St. John’s Wort 350mg – 2 capsules, 2Xs daily. Helps support your nervous system.
- Advanced B Complex by AOR – 3 capsules in the AM. Helps support your nervous system.
- Ortho-Adapt by AOR – 4 capsules in the AM. Helps support your nervous system.
- B6 100mg – 1 tablet in the AM. Helps support your nervous system.
- Zinc Citrate 30mg – 1 tablet in the AM.
- Medi-C Plus by Preferred Nutrition – 1 6.5cc scoop, 2Xs daily.
- Tissue Salt: Magnesia Phosphorica – 4 tablets, 4Xs daily.
- Tissue Salt: Kali Phosphoricum – 4 tablets, 4Xs daily.
- Homeopathic Aconitum Napellus 30CH – 3 tablets, 4Xs daily.
- Homeopathic Ledum Palustre 1M (Speak to your ND, Homeopath or Holistic Medical Doctor when using a homeopathic remedy at this dose.)
- Acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and osteopathic treatments.
After the antibiotics were done and the symptoms were gone, my nephew continued to use many of these holistic supports for 6 months. If you've had digestive issues prior to being diagnosed with Lyme Disease, talk to your ND or holistic MD about continuing these supports until all symptoms of your digestive disorder are gone and your bowel & digestive function is normal. This may require another healing protocol from a health practitioner.
From my experience with Lyme Disease patients, a full recovery depends on the health of the bowel, which is a huge part of the immune system. Unfortunately, the repeated use of antibiotics can cause gut disbiosis which requires a long-term strategy to heal. Consider reading my book, Hot Detox
, for more information on digestive health and all of the detoxification systems of your body.
The presence of black mould can contribute to Chronic Lyme. Check your house (especially your basement) for evidence of black mould. It is nessecary to have it removed completely by a mould specialist. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE IT YOURSELF. Treating mould with bleach does little to kill it and it can expose you to a health-threatening dose. Speak to your ND, Homeopath or Holistic Medical Doctor about internal treatments.
The good news for me is that my nephew was able to make a full recovery. The combined effort of diet, supplements, alternative physical therapy and early medical treatment all contributed to a positive outcome. This is why I feel it's important to share all this information with you. Had I known what my other nephew was dealing with, he could have started treatment him much sooner.
My best tips for preventing Lyme Disease
The best way to prevent Lyme Disease is to avoid contact with ticks. Given the amount of amazing green space we have in North America, this can be a bit of an issue. Incidents of Lyme Disease in North America appear to be concentrated in Eastern Canada, Manitoba and Eastern United States... just know that it can and does occur everywhere! Plus, though not as common in the cold winter months, tick bites can occur year-round.
Pregnant women, in particular, should avoid ticks in known Lyme Disease areas as infection may be transmitted to the fetus.
According to Lyme Disease expert, Stephen Harrod Buhner, the "Borrelia spirochetes are present in a variety of ther biting arthropods, such as mosquitos, mites, fleas and biting flies and transmission through some of thes routes has been document." It is important to take percautions when dealing with any type of insect bite.
I don’t want you to become frightened about being in nature! Communing with nature is a very important part of being healthy.
Useful tips for avoiding ticks and tick bites
- GO LONG! Wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks to keep ticks off your skin. Make your health and fashion statement! Tuck your shirt into your pants, and your pant legs into your socks or shoes to keep ticks (and other insects) on the surface of your clothing. If outside for a long period of time, tape the area where pants and socks meet to prevent ticks from crawling under clothing.
- BONUS IDEA : Wear light-coloured clothing to make it easier spotting ticks.
- BE SITE SMART! Unless you are prepared, avoid wooded areas and nearby shady grasslands. Ticks and other insects are common in these areas, and particularly common where the two areas meet.
- BONUS IDEA : Maintain a clear backyard by removing yard litter and excess brush that could attract deer and rodents. Maximize the sunlight in your backyard.
- TICK CHECK! Once indoors after being outside, check for ticks using a bright light, especially in the hairy areas of your body (including the groin, genitals and head) and place your clothing into a hot dryer for 15 minutes to kill any ticks that you have brought home with you. (Washing your clothes will not kill a tick!) Ideally, having a Tick Check Partner to help you with the tick-check process is the best option.
- BONUS IDEA : Before letting pets indoors, check them for ticks. Ticks often fall off pets and then attach to humans. Plus, pets can also develop Lyme Disease.
- HAIL CEDAR! Consider using Cedar Essential Oil around your porch area and places where adults, children and pets frequently walk and play. Cedar oil kills ticks in all life stages and is safe for humans, animals and the environment. This US company has a pre-made kit you can use on your yard, while this Canadian company sells Cedar Essential Oil in larger quantities. Make up your own spray by diluting the oil in water prior to spraying with a yard hose-end sprayer.
How to make Natural Tick Repellent (aka Natural Phylum Arthropoda-Repelling Perfume)
There has been much controversy about claims that natural essential oils can protect you from insect bites, so I will not be debating that claim here. Instead, I invite you to try out a perfume mixture before heading out to party in nature. Be sure to source your essential oils from a very high-quality essential oil company, such as AromaForce distributed by A.Vogel
. Low-quality brands will require more drops to make this recipe and may contain artificial scent enhancers that are unhealthy.
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to adorn the body with pleasant aromas.
In a spray bottle, combine:
- 500 mL of Witch Hazel
- 10 drops of organic Cedar essential oil
- 10 drops of organic Rose Geranium essential oil
- 10 drops of organic Citronella essential oil
- 10 drops of organic Camphor essential oil
- 10 drops of organic Rosemary essential oil
Shake well before applying. Do not get it in your eyes! Be cautious when using any new product on a child.
Tick Bite! How to remove a tick
What we do know id that your risk of infection can be decreased by promptly removing ticks.
1. If you do get a tick bite, remove it using fine-tipped tweezers and – whatever you do – remain calm!
- Do not use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, essential oils or other products, as these techniques will NOT effectively remove the tick.
- Again, according to the ILADS website: "Any manhandling of the tick such as squeezing it, putting Vaseline over it, or holding a hot match to it, will increase the chance of transmitting bugs."
2. Grab the tick as close to the head as possible and pull it out gently so that ALL parts of the tick are removed.
3. Be careful not to crush the body of the tick as this can cause it to inject bacteria into your body.
4. Wash your hands with soap and water and clean the bitten area with an antiseptic or soap and water.
5. Place the tick in a tightly closed container for examination by your local health department or healthcare provider.
6. Contact your doctor about possible prophylactic treatment if your area is known to have Lyme Disease and/or if you have a compromised or suppressed immune system and/or if you were unable to remove the entire tick.
There are many Health Departments in Canada and the USA that no longer accept ticks for analysis. It's still a good idea to keep the tick, sealed in a container, in case you develop symptoms.
The final word
Just as I request that you are mindful of what you eat, I request that you be mindful of the natural world that surrounds you. In no way am I attempting to alarm you with this information. Rather I strive to arm you with research, experience and alternatives that you can bring to your own health care practitioners.
I love the outdoors, and encourage you to enjoy it, too.
- Healing Lyme: Natural Healing of Lyme Borreliosis and the Coinfections Chlamydia and Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis, 2nd Edition by Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2015
- Natural Treatments for Lyme Coinfections: Anaplasma, Babesia, and Ehrlichia by Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2015
- Health hazards of mosquito repellents and safe alternatives: V.P. Sharma, National Institute of Science Technology and Development Studies: Current Science, Vol 80, No3 February 2001
- DDT Exposure in Utero and Breast Cancer: Barbara A. Cohn, Michele La Merrill, Nickilou Y. Krigbaum, Gregory Yeh, June-Soo Park, Lauren Zimmermann, and Piera M. Cirillo: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism June 16, 2015
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