Tick, Tick, Tick...

It's been beautiful here in Maine, other then the 7 days of straight rain :) The trees are leafing out, flowers are blooming, birds are singing, bees are buzzing...wait...what's that on my leg?

tick identification

Yup. They're back. And hungrier than ever it seems. So what do you do when you live in a beautiful place and don't dare stay indoors for the rest of your life? You prepare yourself for the day when you do get a tick bite, and unfortunately here in Maine, that day will come if it hasn't already. Not to fear, however. Lyme Disease is serious and complicated, but you can be proactive and protective when it comes to this condition. So what can you do?

Recent Tick Bite (within 72 hours)

  • Remove the tick carefully by pulling it straight out with tweezers getting as close to the skin as you can. Try not to squish the tick. Be patient and use steady force to pull it out, head and all.
  • Identify the tick. Mainely Ticks has great resources on tick identification (as seen above), including a ProTickME kit that includes identification cards, tweezers, magnifying glass and containers to store the ticks for testing.
  • Don't just look for the rash. Up to 70% of people in Maine may not get the infamous "bull's eye rash" and can still get infected with Lyme. Also, the rash can take 2-4 weeks to appear, after which you've already missed your window for the most preventative treatment.
  • If you were in fact bitten by a deer tick, the tick that carries the bacteria that causes Lyme and other co-infections, try to save the tick in a plastic bag or small container so you can send it off for testing. It's a LOT cheaper to test the ticks than to go through the testing yourself, and even so it can take up to a month for your body to make antibodies that would show up on a test, again thereby missing your preventative treatment window. You can have your tick tested at several different places here in New England, though I recommend IGeneX. This company focuses on Lyme and its co-infections, so even their tick tests are more reliable in my personal opinion.
  • Call your doctor. I know I'm a naturopath, but even I recommend antibiotic treatment when it comes to preventing Lyme Disease. You need to start antibiotics preferably within 72 hours of the bite. You could be on antibiotics for up to 3 months, depending on how long the testing takes to see if your tick was indeed carrying the bacteria.
  • Follow up with your doctor if the test was positive for Lyme or its co-infections. Your doctor will need to monitor you and may keep you on antibiotics if you start manifesting symptoms such as flu-like symptoms, fever or muscle/joint pain.

Past Tick Bite (after 1 week) or Unknown Tick Bite

  • If you are experiencing any of the MANY symptoms of Lyme, get tested as soon as possible preferably for Lyme and its co-infections (Babesia, Ehrlichia, Bartonella) as they are present in about 20% of Lyme patients. Again, I highly recommend IGeneX as the basic ELISA done by most doctors is not specific enough to reach a true diagnosis. It is better to test for your antibodies to specific bands (via Western Blot) and for the DNA of the bug itself (via PCR).
  • According to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases (ILADS) "fewer than 50% of patients with Lyme Disease recall a tick bite." So even if you don't remember a bite, but are experiencing symptoms that aren't justified by another illness, get tested.
  • Breathe. There is hope! There are a LOT more "Lyme literate" doctors than there used to be out there, many of whom have had wonderful success in treating Lyme Disease in even the most complex of cases. Just sit down and have a conversation with your doctor, and if it's not something they treat often (or if they don't know who ILADS is), ask for a referral.