Lyme Awareness Tip for Wheelchair Users

Here’s a quick post in honor of Lyme Disease Awareness Month. I hope that anyone reading this who has friends or family who use chairs will pass this along to them (or post this info on boards or forums where there are a lot of wheelies).

Virtually all Lyme disease prevention information includes a tip along the lines of . . .

Tick check yourself after coming in from outside.

The link above says this, and I included this tip in my Lyme Awareness post last May. This is a good tip for the general population, but it is slightly misleading for those of us who use wheelchairs when we’re in the great outdoors.

First, a very brief primer on how ticks come to attach themselves to you or your dog or cat or horse. They do not jump, like fleas, or fly, like mosquitoes. Instead, they crawl on the ground or up the stems of grasses or twigs or leaves, and they wait for a ride/meal to come by.

When a leg or hoof or paw brushes past the blade of grass or leaf they’re clinging to, they grab hold of the cloth or fur, and they’re on their way to their blood-meal. They climb to a good spot, attach, and start their nasty blood-sucking ways.

This is why Lyme prevention materials always say to wear light-colored long pants and sleeves, to tuck your pants into your socks, and to check yourself and your animals as soon as you come inside. Because you want to see the tick, ideally, before it has a chance to get from your clothing to your skin and then under your skin.

The problem is that ticks don’t discriminate between flesh, fur, and fabric versus plastic, rubber, and metal. If it moves past them, they will latch on.

Ticks are perfectly happy to grab hold of a wheel (on a bicycle, wheelchair, or stroller) or any other part of a wheelchair as you make your way — walking the dog, or getting to your van, or preparing to putter in your garden.

This means that you can bring ticks in on your wheelchair, and check yourself when you come in, and find no ticks. You think you’re “safe.” You’re not.

I have, on more than one occasion, come inside, thoroughly tick-checked my body and clothes, found no ticks, and then, hours later, discovered a tick crawling up my leg or on my shirt. Eww.

The reason this occurs should be obvious by now: it often takes the ticks a while to climb from the chair onto the person in the chair.

Here’s another example. Betsy and I always tick-check Barnum and one-another before Betsy goes to sleep. Barnum and I stay up later. We usually have a last training session, I do my infusion and work on a blog or email, take Barnum out to pee (sometimes including a play session in the yard), and then I plug in my chair to charge overnight, and we go to sleep.

My habit is to put my empty water bottles, my pillbox, my dinner things, and my “to do” list for my PCA on my chair next to my bed right before I turn in. In the morning, at the beginning of her shift — while I’m still asleep — my PCA will clear everything off my chair so that my pills, water, food, etc., are ready when I wake up.

Earlier this week, after Betsy had gone to bed, I took Barnum out for his last pee of the night, plugged in my pchair, and went to sleep. The next morning, my PCA told me that she found a tick crawling on my pillbox when she came in to get it. Eww.

The solution is pretty straightforward.

If you are not a person with a fatiguing illness, and you feel physically capable of doing two tick-checks in one day, the best course is to tick-check yourself when you first come in to nab any ticks that have already made it onto you, and then a few hours later, tick-check yourself again to make sure none of the bugs have transferred from your chair onto you in the interim.

However, most wheelchair users — I among them — have limited energy. If you only have the energy and ability to tick-check once a day, it is better to wait a few hours after you have been outside, and then tick-check yourself thoroughly.

You will note that I am not encouraging wheelies to check your chairs for ticks. This is because there are so many parts of a powerchair that are impossible to check that it simply doesn’t make sense. I have tried to check my chair and still found ticks on it or myself later. Eventually, I had to give it up as a bad job. There is too much surface area, and too many places for a blood-sucking critter to hide.

My daily use powerchair. Gray vinyl captains seat with pocket in the back, beat-up black foam armrests, single post connecting seat to base, which is candy-apple red, with gray front-drive wheels and rear casters, and a black footrest and anti-tip wheels in front. Barnum is standing with his front paws on the footplate, looking into the camera.

Just look at all the places a tick could be crawling on this thing without me knowing it!

(Funny note about this picture: I was planning on taking a picture of just the chair. But when I got out the camera and was setting up the shot, Barnum came over and put his paws on the footplate, standing just like that, and it was too cute to resist, so I took the picture. It’s sort of become a theme that even the posts that are not about Barnum, he feels he must be included in all pictures! For example, the same thing happened with my black-bottom pie picture.)

On a manual chair, it might be more possible — you’re not dealing with all those hidden parts in the undercarriage. So, manual wheelies, I live it up to your discretion whether you think it worthwhile to check your chair as well as yourself.

One final note: This information applies to wheelies the world over. Many falsely believe that Lyme disease is an American disease, or a disease of the Northeast or the East Coast of the United States, etc. Sadly, this is not the case. In fact, there are parts of the world (such as certain parts of Europe), where chronic Lyme disease is recognized and treated much better than in the US. On the other hand, in other countries — such as Canada — the myth persists that Lyme “doesn’t happen here.” I know enough Canadians with Lyme to know that’s not the case.

Lyme and tick-borne disease — and the ticks that carry Lyme and other infections — are a global problem. Lyme and other tick-borne diseases affect people not just in every state of the Union, but in Canada, and every continent, including South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The strains vary somewhat, as the species of ticks vary slightly, but they are all in the same family, and ticks attach themselves to humans, birds, dogs, other mammals, marsupials, etc., the same way the world over. (For more information on this topic, please read the opening chapters of Steven Harrod Buhner’s Healing Lyme, which gives an excellent scientific history of the species of tick and pathogens that cause Lyme, the world over.)

For everyone living or visiting where the ground is not completely covered in ice or snow, it is tick season. Please check yourselves and the other humans and non-humans in your household every day.

-Sharon (recovering? chronic Lymie), the muse of Gadget (chronic Lymie), and Barnum (so far, uninfected), SDiT?


7 Responses to “Lyme Awareness Tip for Wheelchair Users”

  1. 1 patti brehler May 11, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Informative post. I doubt that many people realize how the ticks “climb aboard”–even things like the wheelchair! Good advice, although sometimes it is difficult to find the tiny ticks on a black dog! Any tips for that?

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler May 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Patti,

    Believe me, I have been through the difficulties of finding ticks on black dogs with thick coats! I often wish I could get a fawn bouvier just to make it easier to tick check!

    I did write a “how to tick check a dog” instruction in the comments section on last year’s canine Lyme post, but I should probably make it a post, in itself, because you are certainly not the first person to ask. I will do that and try to get it up in the next week or so.

    Thank you for the comment!

  3. 3 brilliantmindbrokenbody May 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I had an idea on de-ticking a ‘chair, if one has an assistant. I don’t know how good an idea it is, but I figured I’d post it here and you could try it (and/or you might know why it wouldn’t work well)…

    What about using a vacuum on the chair? I’m thinking when you do the tick-check, run the vacuum nozzle over the chair. You would just need to sit there while your assistant did the work, so it wouldn’t require much extra from you.

    Anyhow, like I said, not sure if it’s helpful, but I know that sometimes helpful ideas can be found from the view of people who have no idea what they’re doing BECAUSE they have no idea what they’re doing. *grin*


  4. 4 Karyn May 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    WOW! I had not even thought about ticks and wheelchairs- many parts of which manufacturers make black! I wouldn’t want to live where you do and have to try and tick check with two highly specialized tilt powerchairs- oh man alive!
    Kali I am doubtful about the vacuum cleaner. My wonder is could they withstand suction and remain in the hose? I mean afterall they only have to grab on to things to attach correct?
    Sharon will have to share her thoughts there but I think that approach would not bring about death of a tick- pretty resilient creatures from what I have read and many vacuums still have bags so you’d have to cut open the bag and sort through to find the critters to kill them. Just my thoughts from Lyme posts I’ve read of Sharons
    I’m guessing also that unlike fleas that are more prominant where I live, ticks are problematic for both healthy and unhealthy hosts whereas fleas are usually a real problem more so for unhealthy animals whose immune systems are weak.
    I look at ticks from the same perspective as vaccines only ticks you have less control over.
    As for checking a black dog- definitely shorter thinner coats through grooming would be the answer for an easier process in tick checking.

  5. 5 Sharon Wachsler May 13, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Hey Kali,

    Thanks for the thought, but I wouldn’t suggest the vacuum option for 3 reasons:

    1. Ticks cling very strongly to surfaces. I don’t know how powerful the vacuum would have to be to suck it off, would be an interesting experiment, but I sure wouldn’t count on it. Their livelihood depends on clinging on tight with their 8 legs and their flat bodies against the surface they’re on.

    2. Ticks can live under unbelievably extreme conditions, e.g., our “tick death jar” is a jar of hydrogen peroxide (which does kill them eventually, and which doesn’t cause fumes I react to, like alcohol), but they can live in it for days! You can see them swimming around in there two or three days after. I don’t remember exactly how long they can live without feeding, but it’s a REALLY long time. So, they could live in the vacuum bag for a long time.

    3. Relatedly, they could crawl out of the vacuum bag, down the hose, and back into your house! And unless you incinerate the vacuum bag (which I don’t suggest, as that would cause toxic fumes), if you just throw it out, they will still be alive wherever that bag ends up.

    4. There are just way too many parts of a chair they can crawl into that you could not get with a vacuum hose. Unless you dismantled the whole chair each time, which is of course, not possible for most chair users, and completely impractical.

    So, that’s why I don’t suggest checking the chair. It’s an exercise in futility, for the most part.

    Ticks are very tricky little creatures!

  1. 1 How to Tick Check Yourself « After Gadget Trackback on October 4, 2011 at 2:37 am
  2. 2 Product Review: Tick Key « After Gadget Trackback on October 17, 2011 at 1:12 am
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