Ask the Naturopathy Expert – Dr. Anouk Chaumont
Is Lyme Disease a Ticking Time Bomb?
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans by the black-legged ticks, also known as the deer ticks. In 2013, 20% of the black-legged ticks that were collected in Alberta tested positive for the Lyme disease bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Each year, the ticks are heavily distributed across Canada and the US by migratory birds. What further complicates the picture is the fact that tick can transmit many other pathogens and these co-infections lead to more complicated and more severe illness. In order to contract Lyme disease and or any co-infection, a tick must remain attached on the skin for as little as 8 to 24 hours.
The main difficulty about diagnosing Lyme disease is the fact that the symptoms are not consistent and can imitate many other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Furthermore, the lack of recognition of the disease within the conventional medical system combined with the lack of reliable laboratory testing may compromise timely diagnosis and treatment and lead to a debilitating, multisystem chronic illness that could have been treatable in the early stage of disease. Consequently, diagnosis is usually based on symptomatology and a history of a tick bite or outdoor activities in an endemic area.
The primary symptom that is considered to be pathognomonic within the medical community is the typical “bull’s eye rash”, but this skin lesion appears in less than 50% of the patients. Early presentation of the disease resemble flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, headache, fever, muscle aches and neck stiffness. In the following weeks, the symptoms can progress to joint, cardiac, cognitive and neurological symptoms.
Currently, the incidence of Lyme disease is quite low but this fact may be skewed by the possibility that it may be underdiagnosed.
Although the risk of contracting Lyme disease is not very high, the best thing to do is to exercise caution and good prevention techniques, especially between the months of May and September or when traveling to endemic areas.
The first thing to do is to protect yourself from tick bites:
- Cover up as much skin as you can when you’re going to be in wooded or grassy areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks. It’s a good idea to wear light-coloured clothes so ticks are easier to identify. Check yourself for ticks after you’ve been outside.
- Use a bug spray that contains the chemical DEET to repel ticks by spraying it on clothing and not directly on the skin.
- Check your pets for ticks after they’ve been outside. You can’t get Lyme disease from your pet, but your pet can bring infected ticks inside. These ticks can fall off your pet and attach themselves to you.