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Lyme: US #1 Vector Borne Disease

lymeAs summer approaches and we begin to make plans to tromp around in the woods I thought it a good time to put Lyme’s Disease on your radar. AND as I have just attended an informative conference on this topic I wanted to give credit where credit’s due. I have utilized information presented by Dr Stacey Rafferty and Dr Daniel Neuman who have proven they are by far more the experts than I. So read on and be educated about a growing health concern here and throughout the country.

Why should we be thinking about Lyme’s Disease? Well it is THE number one vector borne disease in the US affecting a reported half million people across the country. It is estimated that for every one person reported, however, there are another 6-12 who are not…noteworthy indeed! Although many of you are thinking “that is a disease of the North East” I am here to dispel that myth and inform you that in fact Lyme’s Disease has been reported in all 49 continental states. There is no true endemic area of Lyme carrying ticks.

How does one acquire Lyme’s disease? The tick, specifically the Ixodes genus. These ticks carry a spirochete in their saliva and once bitten that spirochete (Borrelia sp.) is transmitted into your blood. These are interesting bacteria in that they are a corkscrew shape with a flagella (little tail). These features allow them to easily leave the bloodstream and bore into a variety of tissues throughout the body. BUT not only do we get Borrelia; along with the spirochetes come other co-infections with other organisms (Babesia, Bartonella and Ehrlichia) which infect our red blood cells. This variety of potential infectious organisms can make treatment particularly tricky! Interestingly the other spirochetsial disease you may be familiar with is Syphilis, which has a similar disease pattern and a variety of overlapping symptoms with Lyme.

Why now, are there more cases of Lyme? One is a warming climate which has contributed to increasing habitat for the hosts. There is indeed a reported increase in host populations; and the hosts are deer, Western Grey Squirrels, N. Pacific sea birds and Canadian song birds like robins and sparrows. This is coupled with a speculated inferior ability to adequately fight this infection by us the victims. As we eat less nutritious foods are exposed to more toxic pollution and have seemingly more stressful lives we weaken. As the Lyme infection festers it can potentially create further susceptibility to other infectious agents like fungi, yeasts, viruses and bacteria…a complicated picture to sort through. In fact Lyme experts see this disease potentially re-titled as Multiple Chronic Infectious Disease Syndrome due to this long-term immune deficiency to multiple organisms.

So what kind of symptoms should we be watching for? Obviously a tick bite; common symptoms following a bite are a rash at the bite site, fever, fatigue, headaches; generally flu-like. As the disease becomes more chronic there are more and more potential symptoms, up to 40!! But most common are persistent fatigue, roaming musculoskeletal pain, sleep disturbances, cognitive dysfunction and any combination of neurological symptoms. This disease has some seasonal cycling being worse in winter and better summer. Also noteworthy that many Lyme sufferers are diagnosed (or mis-diagnosed) with Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Lyme Disease, as true with many complex conditions, may take months or years to diagnose. Yes, there are tests for Lyme, namely the Western Blot. But there seems to be 2 camps of diagnostic criteria so depending on your doctor’s training and/or lab standards these test may be falsely negative. Treatment is complex, beyond the scope of this article, but can involve a variety of therapies from herbs, homeopathy and nutritional supplementation to numerous anti-biotics and pharmaceuticals. The more complicated and long-standing the infection the longer and more intensive the therapeutic options. But the aforementioned docs seem to have had many successes regardless of these complexities.

So let’s go back to something we can all do which is prevention. The nymph stage of tick growth is when ticks are most infectious, ironically when they are also most tricky to detect as they are quite small. But this stage occurs in the months of June/July…a time to be most vigilant of tick bites and infectious symptoms like rashes and flu-like illness following that great camping trip!?! Ticks are most prevalent in wooded areas, tall grasses and shrubby environments. Locally the areas of greatest concern are the Columbia Gorge, Mt Hood, and Southern Oregon. If you are going to be in these areas in June/July consider adding an insect repellent to your supplies! After your outdoor experience check yourself, your kids and your pets for ticks. IF you find a tick remove it with some tweezer type instrument grabbing it as close to the head as possible and pulling directly out. And if, heaven forbid, the head remains in the skin use your best techniques to remove that as well. Finally be brave and ignore your instinct to get it as far away from you as possible, but instead KEEP YOUR TICK! You can put in a dry plastic bag in the freezer for any length of time. Then they can be easily tested for Borrelia and we practitioners can implement treatment if necessary.

I was pleased to learn more about this clearly serious disease and am now excited to be able to do my part to educate my faithful readers and potentially prevent Lyme’s disease in my community. So pass along to the campers, hikers, mountain bikers, fly-fisherman and general outdoor lovers in your life, and of course enjoy the approach of SUMMER!

ONLINE RESOURCES: www.ILADS.org, www.lymediseaseassociation.org, and www.lymedisease.org.

DO something you love, BE with someone you love, EAT your vegetables, DRINK clean water, BREATHE deeply and MOVE your body everyday!!

By Tracy Erfling

Dr. Tracy Erfling is a naturopath physician in the Lower Columbia Region. Questions? erflingnd@hotmail.com