Lyme disease is one of the most common tickbourne illnesses in the Northeast. It is a bacterial infection that is spread through the saliva of an infected tick as it feeds. You are unlikely to feel a tick or its bite; Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and their saliva has painkilling properties that numb their bite. While you can get Lyme disease from a single exposure, not all ticks are infected and there is a good chance of avoiding infection if you remove the tick promptly.
1. Prevention is the best medicine.
Check yourself for ticks and do so as soon as possible anytime you've been outside. If you go outside daily, the best thing is to check yourself daily. It sounds tedious, but it greatly reduces your risk of an infection. Ticks that have been attached for less than 24 hours are not likely to have transmitted Lyme or other tickbourne disease. Scan the body head-to-toe and pay particular attention to hidden areas: scalp and behind ears, groin, armpits, and behind the knees. It can be helpful to have someone else to help look at areas you can't see well.
It is also important to check your pets regularly if they go outside as ticks can travel inside with our furry friends.
The CDC recommends showering off as soon as you come inside--specifically within two hours of being outdoors to lower infection risk. This method washes away any ticks that have not yet attached.
Use insect repellant when you know you will be outside with any chance of rubbing against vegetation, or if you will be walking through woods, brush, or tall grass. Contrary to common beliefs, ticks cannot actually jump, but it only takes a momentary contact for them to transfer themselves. Use chemical repellents only on clothing if possible, and combine with natural repellants on skin. Natural repellants with lemon eucalyptus oil were tested to be among the effective options. Wash outdoor clothing in hot water between uses and dry in a hot dryer to kill any ticks.
2. Remove ticks properly.
DO Use tweezers and pull straight up on the base of where the tick is attached. You want to be as close to the skin as possible and the goal is to get the tick out in one piece.
DO clean the area with soap and water afterwards. You may also use an antiseptic such as alcohol. Remember to wash your hands and tweezers with hot soapy water as well when finished.
DO Watch for a rash and seek care if one develops. This may be a classic "bullseye" rash OR a solid rash. The rash won't be itchy in most cases and many people do not develop a rash so it is important monitor yourself for new symptoms for 30 days.
Do NOT twist or squish the tick body as you pull.
Do NOT use vaseline (or nail polish, or tape) as a smothering method which has been proven to be ineffective, and can cause the tick to burrow in deeper.
3. Treat early.
Antimicrobial and/or immune supportive herbs can be recommended by your natural health care provider, whether you take a coarse of antibiotics or not.
If you do develop a rash or symptoms, or have a positive test for Lyme, your physician may prescribe a courseof antibiotics. This can be quite lengthy, is typically hard on the digestive system, and can cause other long term symptoms. Talk to your natural health provider about ways to manage side effects of antibiotics, if you require them. Probiotics and fermented food confer protective effects on the gut during this time, but be sure to take them separately from your medications.
4. Manage symptoms.
Lyme in particular may present as a flu-like illness in the acute stage--fatigue, fever and head and body ache/stiffness. In a small percentage of individuals, Lyme symptoms and may be more serious and last a long time. Untreated or chronic Lyme presents with a myriad of symptoms that can mimic other diseases and can linger for months. Acupuncture can be helpful in these cases for managing joint pain and neuropathy. Let your healthcare provider know if you have a history of tick bites.
Further Reading: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.html
By Beth Bloomfield, L.Ac., MS