Ticks pose serious health risks

Ticks pose serious health risks

Because tick bites are usually painless, have a long incubation period and the symptoms are so varied, a tick-borne disease may go unrecognized for weeks or even months.

Because tick bites are usually painless, have a long incubation period and the symptoms are so varied, a tick-borne disease may go unrecognized for weeks or even months.

by Patricia Martin — 

Sunshine and flowers are especially welcome this year following the extremely harsh winter. The season has finally begun for hiking, gardening, picnicking and simply enjoying the great outdoors. It is also now tick season — which means increased exposure to the serious infectious diseases they carry.

The cold temperatures do not kill ticks, as they have a two-year life cycle and are well regulated to survive winters. They become active once the weather starts to thaw, and by the time the temperature reaches 40 degrees, they are seeking warm-blooded hosts to feed on.

“According to the New York Department of Health, ticks are most active late spring through mid-August,” says Lou Paradise, president and chief of research at Topical BioMedics, Inc. “Now is the time to avoid contact with them and be aware of the symptoms of Lyme and babesiosis, two dangerous tick-borne illnesses.”

 

Lyme disease

The Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorfen) is carried by a species of ticks known as Ixodes. Ticks in this group include deer ticks, Western black-legged ticks and black-legged ticks. These tiny terrors are small — typically no larger than a poppy seed — and transmit the bacteria when feeding on warm-blooded hosts, including mice, deer, dogs, cats and humans. The bacteria enter the skin through the bite during feeding and eventually make their way into the bloodstream.

Lyme disease is on the rise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of Americans diagnosed each year is approximately 300,000, and the agency has gone on record to say that it believes only 10 to 12 percent of Lyme disease cases are actually reported to them.

The New York Department of Health reports that in 60 to 70 percent of Lyme disease cases, the first symptom is often a rash that occurs at or near the site of a tick bite and has a round, bull’s-eye appearance. It can be between two and six inches in diameter, and lasts up to five weeks. Other symptoms can occur from several days to weeks, months and even years after a bite. They include flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains in muscles and joints, chills and fever, headache, sore throat, stiff neck, swollen glands, dizziness and fatigue. Even if these symptoms fade away, untreated Lyme disease may lead to arthritis, nervous system abnormalities and an irregular heart rhythm.

 

Babesiosis

Babesiosis is another infection transmitted by ticks and is caused by a parasite that lives in red blood cells. The Babesia microti parasite infects and destroys red blood cells, and the disease — a malaria-like illness — can cause hemolytic anemia. Symptoms begin anywhere from five days after a bite or longer and may include fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, nausea, tiredness and a rash. Unlike Lyme disease, babesiosis has been known to be fatal. Therefore, diagnosis and treatment should begin as soon as possible after it is contracted.

 

Tricky diagnosis

Because tick bites are usually painless, have a long incubation period and the symptoms are so varied, a tick-borne disease may go unrecognized for weeks or even months. Moreover, these diseases often mimic other conditions — such as the flu, meningitis or, in some instances, multiple sclerosis — making it easy for a misdiagnosis. Further complicating matters is the fact that diagnostic tests are not always accurate or conclusive.

Test timing is a factor in diagnosis. According to Sally Hojvat, Ph.D., director of the Division of Microbiology Devices at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, “It is important to know that blood tests that check for antibodies to the bacterium that causes Lyme disease are not useful if done soon after a tick bite. It takes two to five weeks for initial antibodies to develop.”

 

Prevention and defensive measures

De-tick with duct tape. To get the pests off you or your pet, use sticky duct tape to remove them before they bite.

De-tick with duct tape. To get the pests off you or your pet, use sticky duct tape to remove them before they bite.

Avoiding contact with ticks and disease prevention are the first and best lines of defense against tick-borne infections. The following tips may help keep you and your family safe from these tiny threats.

  • Ticks are carried by deer, mice and other common woodland creatures. Keep these uninvited guests away by moving brush, woodpiles and bird feeders away from your house and play areas.
  • A number of plants can be cultivated around your yard to repel ticks, including lavender, garlic, pennyroyal, pyrethrum (a type of chrysanthemum), sage and eucalyptus.
  • Natural products are good sources of tick repellents. According to author and green living expert Annie B. Bond, the essential oil of rose geranium is an effective repellent. “Do not apply it directly on skin, but mix a drop or two in an oil, or dab onto your clothing, particularly shoes, socks and pants, shirt cuffs and collar,” says Bond. “You may also use it on your dog, but again not directly on the skin. Apply a drop to a bandana or on a collar or harness.”

Other products she recommends include Rose Geranium Hydrosol, available from Simplers Botanicals for $12.65 (simplers.com) and Buzz Away Extreme, which is formulated with citronella, cedarwood, eucalyptus, lemongrass and peppermint. Studies have found it to be as effective or better than DEET-based products, and it was rated the most effective natural insect repellent by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute.

  • Dryer sheets may also offer some protection. According to Dr. Gary Wilkes, a veterinarian at Westside Animal Hospital, Augusta, Ga. “To avoid ticks, place dryer sheets in socks, pockets and hat.”
  • Keep your lawn manicured and avoid walking in wooded, brushy and grassy areas. When hiking in an overgrown or wooded area, try to stay near the center of the trail and do not sit on stone walls, which can harbor rodents.
  • When outdoors, wear long sleeves and long pants, preferably in light colors so you can spot a tick more easily. Wear shoes and socks that you can tuck pant legs into.
  • After spending time outdoors, remove clothes and place them in a dryer for 15 minutes, then wash and dry again. Washing does not kill ticks, even with bleach. It is the heat of the dryer that does the trick.
  • Do a thorough body check after spending time outdoors and take a shower or bath within two hours of coming inside. In the case of Lyme disease, infection from a tick to a human typically takes 30 to 40 hours, so spotting and removing them quickly is an important first defense. (It is uncertain how long it takes for babesiosis to spread.)
  • De-tick with duct tape. To get the pests off you or your pet, use sticky duct tape to remove them before they bite.
  • Be sure to inspect dogs and cats for ticks after they have been outside. They can also become sick with Lyme disease.

If you discover a tick attached to you, carefully remove it. Using tweezers, grasp it close to the skin and pull straight back without twisting or yanking. Or you can buy a device expressly made for removing ticks. Avoid pressing or squeezing the tick’s belly, as it can push bacteria into your body. Similarly, do not use the heat of a match that you light and blow out, or petroleum jelly. After removing a tick, disinfect the bite area. Save the tick for possible identification by a doctor or the local health department.

Research now shows the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), offering hope to patients crippled by chronic Lyme disease. Dr. William Fife at Texas A&M University has published extensive research demonstrating profound improvements in Lyme disease patients treated with HBOT. These improvements include pain reduction, return of mental clarity and reduction of depression.

 

Safe, natural treatments

Doctors will often prescribe antibiotics if Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness is suspected. Here are some other safe, natural treatments to assist in your body’s recovery.

“With tick-borne diseases, the body needs to detoxify, especially joint, muscle and nerve tissue,” says Lou Paradise, president and chief of research of Topical BioMedics, Inc. “Applying Topricin® is helpful, as it gives the body the support for its basic function of maintaining healthy cells and repairing damaged ones through enhanced healing. Its combination of natural biomedicines in a clean water-based cream that is free of chemicals and other irritants helps restore vitality to joint, nerve and muscle tissues while providing safe, effective pain relief.”

The reference book Prescription for Nutritional Healing offers the following recommendations for helping to recover from Lyme disease.

Nutritional supplements recommended include:

  • Essential fatty acids (help reduce inflammation and joint stiffness)
  • Pancreatin and bromelain (aid in protein digestion and reduce inflammation)
  • Evening primrose oil capsules (help combat pain and inflammation, with significant benefits to the skin and the cardiovascular system)
  • Garlic (stimulates the immune system and has antibiotic properties)
  • Kelp (provides a rich source of B-vitamins and minerals, and aids in detoxification)
  • Vitamins A, C and E (antioxidants that give immune system support)
  • Green drinks with chlorophyll (aid in detoxification, while providing important nutrients and enzymes)

Herbs recommended include:

  • Alfalfa (supplies minerals and detoxifies the body)
  • Dandelion root, ginseng, hawthorn, horsetail and marshmallow root (help cleanse and rebuild the blood and damaged tissues)
  • Echinacea (immune enhancer that fights bacterial and viral infections but should be used with caution if you are allergic to ragweed)
  • Goldenseal (use for one week only as a natural antibiotic, but caution: do not use during pregnancy or if you are allergic to ragweed)
  • Milk thistle extract (protects the liver and kidneys, and stimulates the production of new liver cells)
  • Red clover (cleanses the bloodstream and helps fight infection)

 

Patricia Martin is an author, lifestyle writer and managing editor of “Natural Healing, Natural Wellness” e-zine published by Topical BioMedics, Inc. pmartin@topicalbiomedics.com or at topricin.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 33, Number 3, June/July 2014.

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