By Greg Miller
Lyme disease has become a major concern in recent years, and for some very good reasons. Left untreated, the disease can cause serious health issues that may linger throughout a person’s lifetime.
I actually haven’t kept track of exactly how many times I’ve had Lyme disease. But suffice to say that I know for a fact that I’ve had it at least a half-dozen times. Some of the cases were severe, some not very severe, and some were in the middle.
My most recent and serious bout with Lyme disease occurred a couple years ago, and get this — the medical people who treated me for the disease on that occasion believe that I may actually have been bitten by a deer fly, not a tick.
As you can clearly see in the photo below, there was a large, bruised area on the back of my left thigh. But while the bite area did look very suspicious, it didn’t have any of the characteristics of a classic “bullseye” tick bite. It also was in an area on my body — the back of my left thigh — that one wouldn’t expect a tick to latch onto.
But regardless, the bite did eventually produce the exact type of symptoms I’ve experienced each and every time I’ve been diagnosed with Lyme disease — fever, chills, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, etc. And in fact, the symptoms ended up being more severe than any I’d experienced during past bouts with the disease.
A fair number of people I know who have tested positive for the disease — and who also came down with many of the symptoms of Lyme’s — never found a tick anywhere on their bodies. Nor did they find any evidence of a tick bite prior to becoming ill.
Where Are Ticks Found?
This past spring, and not long after the last of our snow cover had finally disappeared, I found a tick crawling on me that I had to have picked up right in our yard. While we do have a few spruce trees in our yard, we don’t have any hardwoods whatsoever. We don't even have any type of underbrush in or around our yard. Truth is, our yard is bordered on two sides by cropland, and on one side by a blacktop road.
But of course, there are definitely places that are literally infested with ticks. They are most common in grassy, brushy or wooded areas and on animals that reside in such areas — which means deer are a major host animal for ticks.
A scary fact we’ve discovered about ticks in recent years is that they can be active even when there are isolated patches of snow on the ground. Like many other deer hunters, I love to scout and search for shed antlers in the spring of the year, and I like to hit the woods in search of sheds as early as possible in the spring. Unbelievably, I’ve actually found ticks to be active at this time even though daytime temperatures are still downright cold, and despite the fact that there are isolated patches of snow on the ground.
Lyme Disease Diagnosis
Here’s another scary aspect of Lyme disease. It frequently presents a spectrum of symptoms that often are overlooked as being Lyme related. Patients may not be presenting with the hallmark Lyme rash that develops after a tick or mosquito bite, but often don’t recall being bitten, which contributes to a high rate of Lyme misdiagnosis.
On this same subject, a patient can have all the symptoms associated with Lyme disease, or have very few. In fact, it’s not uncommon for Lyme disease to be misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, lupus, mononucleosis, ulcerative colitis, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease or fibromyalgia. Misdiagnosis can mean not getting treatment, or worse, getting treatment for the wrong ailment.
Ticks aren’t going away anytime soon. And in fact, they seem to have become commonplace in more areas than ever. Unfortunately, many of those areas are the exact places where deer hunters are spending a lot of time because they’re also great hunting areas.
Effectively Dealing with Ticks
So how do those of us who spend a lot of time in the outdoors deal with this growing threat to our health? Well, I’ve found that applying a good tick repellent/killer can be very effective at keeping a person "tick-free."
Now I realize that some people may be concerned about the possible drawbacks of active ingredients in common repellents. However, researchers have analyzed the science in-depth and found that, with proper application and precaution, active ingredients like Picaradin, DEET and IR3535, effectively reduce risk from life-threatening diseases and have very low toxicity concerns.
Since our family lives and recreates in an area where tick numbers are high, we’ve made it a routine to thoroughly spray our shoes and pant legs with a permethrin-based product prior to heading into any area that might have an overabundance of ticks. Oftentimes after returning from a walk in the woods, I’ll actually throw my clothes in our dryer and tumble dry them on high heat for 10 minutes. Doing this will kill any ticks that could be hiding out on my clothing.
And when it comes to washing the clothing that I routinely wear into the woods, I always use hot water. Medium and cold temperature water will not kill ticks.
I also like to shower as soon as possible after walking in areas I suspect may harbor ticks. According to a study I recently read, showering within two hours of coming indoors may be effective in reducing the risk of getting Lyme disease, and may reduce the risk of other tickborne diseases. Showering will also help wash off unattached ticks.
In the end, however, and despite taking a whole lot of precautions, I’m afraid there’s no way for people who spend a lot of time in the outdoors to remain 100-percent safe from ticks. So, my last bit of advice is to strongly urge people to always do thorough self checks for ticks immediately after returning from hunting or scouting the woods, fields, etc. And if you do find a tick attached, have a medical person remove it and do a blood test to check for the presence of a tickborne disease. As I’ve so painfully discovered, when it comes to Lyme disease, it’s far better to be proactive than reactive.