Preventing Lyme Disease
As this goes out there are 20 days until it is officially spring!! As winter creeps into spring and the melting waters begin to permeate the ground, it produces more than just the long-anticipated sprouting green growth. It also begins to wake up the various growth of fungi, bacteria, and insect larvae to begin their summer evolution. Enter the notorious tick.
We are more apt to think about ticks in the summer when it is warmer and we are more active in walking the fields and forests. But tick activity begins in the spring and well into fall before they go into dormancy with the first frosts. Just the mention of the words Lyme Disease, is enough to make some of us panic when we find a tick on our clothing or worse
embedded in our skin. But take a deep breath and read on; an informed hiker knows what to do and how to avoid disease. Just because you have found a tick imbedded in your skin does not mean you have to run for antibiotics.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a parasitic infection that is carried by ticks that can cause symptoms of extreme fatigue, muscle & joint pain that can move from one area of the body to another, severe headache, facial nerve palsy, irregular heartbeat, neuropathy & strange nerve sensations in arms & legs, arthritic-like inflammation in different areas of the body and short-term memory impairment. In addition to lyme disease, there are 6 other known parasitic infections that can occur with lyme in any multiple combinations. Over time, the animals that ticks have come into contact with and the parasites that they carry, have compounded the number of bacteria that can be transmitted by ticks and the sickness
they carry. If you do suspect you are sick from a tick bite, it is advisable that you see someone that is experienced with lyme and its co-infections.
First, here is a good look at the life cycle of ticks from a website www.earthkind.com :
The CDC reports that, depending on the type of tick and the amount of time between stages, their lifespan can range from three months to two years. The Blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the Deer tick, has a typical lifespan of two years. Males normally die after mating and a female will die after laying her eggs. In general, they don’t have a lengthy lifespan, but it is enough time for them to wreak havoc on their host. During that period of time, they go through four stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. To get to each of the next stages in their life cycle, these pests must feast on an unsuspecting animal’s blood. If they don’t, they will die before making it to the next phase. Below we go over each of the stages in the life cycle of a tick so you know what to expect and how to prevent tick bites.
Stage 1: Eggs Like all living, breathing things, ticks begin in egg form. McHenry County, IL Health Department says that adult female ticks will typically lay eggs in the early spring. The eggs hatch as the temperature warms. The egg to hatch period can take up to 60 days. Once hatched, they must find a blood meal to survive.
Stage 2: Larva In this unique stage, the tick has six legs instead of the usual eight. The larva are tiny and can be hard to detect. Often, they will look for mice and other small animals to get their first meal. After the larva feeds, it will lie dormant through the winter and molt into the next phase.
Stage 3: Nymph When the tick reaches this level, the average size (while bigger) is STILL less than 2 mm. In visual terms, that’s around the size of a poppy seed! In this stage, they add two more legs, bringing them to a total of eight. During this time, they tend to be more active in late spring through the summer months. Once a new host is found, and the tick gets its meal, it will once again molt to become an adult.
Stage 4: Adult This is the final stage of the tick life cycle. At that stage, adults can typically be found outdoors on tall grass or shrubs, waiting for their next victim. They will attach themselves to a different host, an animal or person, that brushes against the grass where they are lurking. They will once again feed, then mate, and then the females will lay eggs to start the cycle all over again.
Now that you know their activity cycle, here are a few things to keep in mind. If you are walking on well-traveled paths, especially where there is a lot of dog walking going on or dog play areas, the odds of coming into contact with ticks will be greater. Contrary to what some folks think, ticks do not jump or fly onto their victims, they climb onto taller grasses and brush. They "hang out" there until an animal or human comes along and brush up against the overgrowth and then drop onto a potential host. Smaller eggs and larvae are more apt to attach themselves to mice, while the larger nymphs and adults are found on deer, dogs, cats, etc and humans. Of course, any one of these animals can help spread any disease by coming into contact with others and ticks in whatever form can take another ride.
If you have pets and they seem to come in with ticks from being around your outdoor home environment, be sure to trim out old or overgrown grassy areas, tall grasses around the foundation of your house and any brushy areas nearby. These are places ticks like to hang out. Some flea and tick collars and other treatments for dogs and cats can be toxic for them so use carefully if you choose this route. Andrographis herb, which we will talk more about below, is fine to spray on your pets and even if they lick themselves, they will not get sick. If you do use it this way, you will need to refresh the spray every couple of days.
Awareness Factor #1: Be conscious of what type of environment you on walking in. Stay away from tall grassy fields or lunging through brush, like along stream beds etc. If you do need to walk these types of areas, you will want to do a tick check when you arrive home AND before you enter the house. Then throw ALL your clothes in a hot washer or even just the dryer as heat will kill them. You don't want to leave unchecked clothes laying around the house as any ticks can then have free reign in our house, furniture, etc. When you do a tick check, be sure to check armpits, backs of knees, groin areas etc. Any places that are dark & warm is
where they will head. Don't forget to check your hair and hairline.
Awareness Factor #2: Just because you find a tick embedded in your skin, doesn't mean that you have been contaminated. If you do regular tick checks; when walking, you will likely find the tick the same day or a few hours after tick imbeds. Most ticks are not able to embed far enough into your skin to make contact with blood for a number or hours, usually 12 to 24. If they are removed properly and area treated immediately, there are usually no after affects.
How to Dress
When you can, wear long pants and sleeves. In summer when it is hot, that may not be practical. Sturdy boots for your feet with pants tucked into them tend to keep them off your legs. Wear a hat and be sure to check your hair during a tick check. If you choose to wear a short sleeved shirt, be sure to spray your arms with tick repellant; and it doesn't hurt to spray your clothes with repellant also, so they stay away.
How to Treat
There are many insect repellants that advertise that they are tick repellants also. I have not yet found one that works well for ticks. What we HAVE found is that ticks do not like the herb Andrographis. Not only does it work well as a repellant but it also works internally if you are bitten to kill any bacterial parasites that may get into your bloodstream. You can dilute the tincture with water and spritz skin and clothes. If you find a tick embedded in your skin, remove the tick with a slotted spoon sold specifically for tick removal. Next best thing is a pair of tweasers; but don't squeeze the body of the tick. There will be more of a chance of the tick spewing any bacteria into your skin or bloodstream. Work carefully, and remember as traumatic as it might be to find one on you; take a deep breath and know you are doing the right thing by getting as close to the skin as possible with the tweasers, getting a good grip on the neck at the sight and pull straight back. Once the tick is removed, make sure you kill the tick by cutting through the body with something sharp - they have very tough exteriors. It is a good idea to carry Andrographis with you when you hike as part of your backpack. (We have small kits that can be purchased with antibacterial solution, Andrographis and a spritzer bottle). After you have removed the tick, apply some antibacterial solution if you have it or even a drop of Andrographis which will kill bacteria and parasites in the immediate area. You can also take 2 half droppers of Andrographis orally to help kill anything that may get into your bloodstream. Just be ready as it is bitter and you will want some water to chase it with.
When you arrive home, do a tick check and wash the area well with a antibacterial solution or soap. Keep your eye on the area for a few days. If any type of bullseye or other rash appears, whether a target rash or a general outbreak; or if you develop a fever, even if there is no rash, you should call your physician. A test for lyme at this time may or may not be positive for lyme or any of the other 6 bacterial parasites that could be present, but with your symptoms, usually a course of Doxycycline is prescribed for 21 days. The sooner you are treated the better as once lyme gets into your system, it is much harder to get rid of; sometimes going
dormant for months and then appearing again with fatigue, sometimes pain and other symptoms of unknown origin. The course of treatment then becomes much more complex and I recommend you find someone in your area that is experienced in dealing with lyme disease.
The biggest thing is not to let fear keep you from enjoying the outdoors. Now that you are informed, be prepared and know what to do. Find a buddy that can help you check places that you cannot see like your back and hair. Invest in good lightweight hiking clothing and have some type of tick kit with you. You may never have to use it, but peace of mind is a great investment.
If you would like to purchase one of our kits for $25 to include postage, just send us an email request.
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