I'm easily two months late in announcing it is tick season, but I thought I'd mention it as I have a few things to share from my own most recent tick drama.
If you spend any amount of time outside (you know, like if you are a gardener, or perhaps someone with a dog that you take for walks) in about half this country (USA), you are bound to come across a tick. If you live in New England (or, I hear Wisconsin is quite bad too) then sadly, all you have to do is walk to your mailbox.
There is plenty of information online about tickborne diseases like Lyme - the main thing that we associate with a tick bite. If you are reading up on the latest and doing internet searches, I advise you ignore all the strange and needless (insurance industry fueled) controversy that seems to surround this disease and just believe the worst case scenarios - they all seem to be true and no amount of insurance company B.S. is going to change that. Plus, insurance should pay for your treatment. Don't even get me started on that one. Everyone around here knows at least one person whose life has been utterly derailed at some point because of some crazy Lyme-related thing. Be aware and be careful.
I won't bore you with all the basic Lyme information that you can get elsewhere, but there are a few new things that I've learned over the last 3 weeks (as I have been dealing with a new case of Lyme as well as an infection of Anaplasma phagocytophilium) that I think anyone who is regularly outside should probably know.
- Ticks in New England are increasingly giving people and pets other things besides Lyme. Anaplasma phagocytophilium is one of them... but there are others and some of them are hugely on the rise and these nasty bacterial diseases are often even less understood than Lyme. Anaplasma phagocytophilium was first discovered in dogs in the 1980s and in humans in the 90s but it is spreading fast and the amount of people infected with it grows radically every year. My advice: If you have a tick bite and you go to a doctor - make sure they run a 'full tick panel' (not just a Lyme test) to make sure you don't have one of these other things as well. You will very likely have to ask for this - use the words 'full tick panel'.
- I've had Lyme three times (this is my third now) and I've never been sicker than I have this time. I blame the co-infection of Anaplasma phagocytophilium. I don't know if Anaplasma phagocytophilium is worse or if the combination is what is so debilitating - but anecdotally - my experience is that Anaplasma phagocytophilium makes you much sicker than Lyme and it doesn't go away as fast.
- Ignore all advice that say a tick has to be on you for at least 48 hours in order to transmit any of these diseases. I've questioned this for years as I have never left a tick on myself or any other member of my family for this long and all of us (including the dog) have had Lyme at least once. When a nurse from the state of Massachusetts called me the other day about my Anaplasma phagocytophilium infection (because this is serious stuff and they are studying it intensely due to the fact that the rate of incidence is growing exponentially) she asked me how long my tick had been attached before I discovered it. Me: A few hours - maybe - 8 hours tops. She confirmed that I am not alone in this and her report as well as other current studies will be discrediting this long held advice. Reality is that most sick people report that the ticks were removed within a few hours. You can get all sorts of horrible tick diseases from just a bite - it doesn't have to be attached for 48 hours.
- My doctor (and the nurse on the phone from the state) also both advised that new studies indicate that if you get a tick bite, and you immediately take two 100 mg doxycycline (the standard antibiotic treatment given to Lyme sufferers) twelve hours apart. This will radically reduce your chances of getting Lyme. I thought this was good to know preventative information - worth discussing with your doc and seeing if you can get a prescription for a small dose (i.e. 2) to have at the ready.
- And lastly - if you are put on doxycycline for anything less than 200mg/day, there is a problem. The minimum effective dose in 200mg/day (unless you are taking it for acne) and anything less means "you are effectively not being treated" - according to my doctor. This happened to me (done by the urgent care doc who I initially presented to) - you will be miserable a lot longer if you don't get the right dose right away. Unfortunately you have to be smart about dosages... and don't get under-dosed... it is possible that you'd be better off with nothing than too little.
I hope this PSA helps you ask the right questions and take care of your family. But lets be clear on a few things before I sign off - I am not a doctor and none of should be considered expert medical advice. But I do hope that as we continue to communally navigate this nuisance in our environment - one that not getting better, but worse - that some of these little tidbits will help you to advocate for your family and stay as safe as possible.