lizcommotion: a forest filled with sunlight and small purple flowers (spring trees)
[personal profile] lizcommotion posting in [community profile] the_great_outdoors
I've just spent the past six to seven years coping with untreated and undiagnosed Lyme disease, a disease which is quite easy to get if you spend a lot of time out in the woods. So as it is a royal pain in the arse, I thought I'd do a quick Lyme disease FAQ/linkspam to hopefully help people avoid having the same problem.

What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through the bite of an infected tick (usually a deer tick, which often resembles a poppy seed).

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
That depends on who you talk to. Initial symptoms can include a "bull's eye" rash, Fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes (source: CDC). 

However, later on in my illness, I was getting really weird symptoms such as dizziness; one knee that buckled randomly while I was walking; extreme light sensitivity; headaches misdiagnosed as migraines; nerve tingling; etc. I'd been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and so we kept attributing weird new symptoms to that rather than looking for a "global problem" such as Lyme. Lyme has been called the new "Great Imitator" (after syphilis) and so a lot of the symptoms are very similar to other illnesses such as MS, ALS, Fibromyalgia, Chron's, etc. If you're interested in what case studies of these might look like, I highly recommend reading Treatment of Chronic Lyme Disease: 51 Case Studies in their regard. The author has been in practice for decades and discusses his experiences treating chronic lyme and look-alike illnesses.

What is Chronic Lyme and does it or does it not exist?

This is an excellent question and one that I am still wrestling with. Basically, some people in the medical community feel that a 3-week course of antibiotics should treat any Lyme exposure. Any remaining symptoms after that are "post-Lyme disease syndrome", which is evidence of long-term damage done by the bacteria. Others feel that the course of antibiotics for TB, HIV, and many other infectious diseases takes a lot longer...why shouldn't it for Lyme? It's actually really a contentious medical battle at the moment.

To understand it from the patient's perspective, I recommend checking out this article from the Washington Post.
How can I prevent Lyme disease?

I love being outside, and I do not plan, as one author has suggested, to build a 10 foot high electric deer fence around my yard to keep out tick hosts. Nor do I intend to stop feeding the birds, as I am an avid birder and feel that they're losing a lot of food due to habitat loss in my neighborhood.

However, there are some concrete steps you can take if you plan to be outside:
  1. Use an insect repellent containing permethrin on your clothing. Permethrin kills ticks (and other things) so it's important not to get it on you. Rather, you treat your clothing. So, for example: have a pair of hiking pants that you spray with permethrin (outside in a well-ventilated area when you're not wearing them). Let them dry, and bingo! instant tick risk reduction. The permethrin will last through several washes.
  2. Wear long pants. I know it gets hot in summer, but consider: being a little hot, or getting Lyme disease? Similarly, it's best if you can tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ticks crawling up your pants or if you have those pants with the drawstrings at the bottom that let you pull them closed. Also, if it's that hot, maybe you should just go swimming at the pool instead of hiking.
  3. Wear light-colored clothing so that you can see if there is a tick crawling on it.
  4. If you can, avoid long grasses where ticks like to hang out.
  5. When you come home, do a tick check to see if you've missed any on your body. This includes those hard-to-spot crevices. Often times it's hard to feel a tick bite and they can be the size of a poppy seed. The longer they're attached, the more likely they are to transmit infection. Check you (and your pets) after a walk to make sure you didn't bring anyone home.
  6. If you get a tick bite, know how to remove it (tweezers, not a match!) and save the tick so that it can be tested. Also, if you are bitten, be alert for any of the symptoms of Lyme listed above. You don't want to miss it.
Hopefully I haven't scared anyone off a walk in the woods and instead have made it a safer place for everyone except for ticks.
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