Lyme Myths: “Not a Problem Here”

I  have not been able to do much blogging lately (you might have noticed). Here’s some exciting news though:

1. Barnum is consistently and speedily peeing on cue in his usual toileting area. Now I just have to start slooooowly moving him away from it so he can generalize the cue. But even more exciting (I know, you didn’t think it was possible), is that last night he pooped on cue! Yes!

2. I have been using a lot of the energy that I normally use for blogging or training Barnum to do “creative writing,” which I also hope will be paid writing. It’s been thrilling to discover I still know how to discover characters and tell a story. I feel like I am finding “me” again.

Okay, you all know I tend to ramble if given the chance, so I’m going to try to do some short posts on Lyme- and tick-related myths and facts, because I come across those a lot.

Also, aside from regular readers, the most traffic to this site is from people who have used a search engine to look up information on ticks, often related to dogs, deer ticks, or Lyme disease. For this reason, I have set up a permanent resource page called, Did You Get Here by Searching “Ticks”? Lyme & Related Info.

It has links and a brief description for all the Lyme-informative posts I’ve done (currently divided into posts on ticks and canine Lyme; treatment and living with Lyme; and PICC line/infusion).

I will try to put a button for it on the home page so it’s easy for people to find. I’ll add links for new posts as they arise. (For example, this one!)

Today’s myth is that there are areas of the country (or the world) where you and your dog don’t have to worry about Lyme disease. Sadly, this is not the case.

I think I unintentionally contributed to this idea when I included a map of the United States in one of last year’s Lyme awareness posts. It showed where the heaviest concentration of Lyme-carrying ticks were at the time the survey was done. (Important note: Each year, more cases of Lyme spread into areas where it was previously rare.)

I was hoping people would see the map, and along with the fact that I said, “Lyme is everwhere,” in that post, understand that it’s very severe in some areas, but no area is “safe.”

Instead, I think people tend to look at the darkest concentration of dots and think, “Phew! Glad I don’t live there!”

In fact, I have heard from people comments such as these:

  • “I’m so glad I don’t live where you do. I couldn’t deal with Lyme.”
  • “I got the Lyme vaccine for my dog when we visited in [state].”
  • “We don’t have a lot of ticks/Lyme here.”

I’m not going to say that everywhere has the same level of risk, because right now, where I live is one of the worst places for ticks and Lyme, and you may not live in one of the most prevalent Lyme locales.

Nonetheless, you don’t need to be overrun with ticks for Lyme to be an issue: It only takes one tick. One bite.

And whether you see or feel them or not, there are ticks and Lyme everywhere.

Literally.

Here are some examples.

Think cities are low-tick zones? I know people with Lyme disease who contracted it in New York City (not known for its woodlands) and Somerville, Mass., the most densely populated city in New England. The Somervillian picked up the tick from a shrub in her yard. The “yards” in Somerville are mostly concrete.

What about cold climates? I know people with Lyme in Alaska. Maine, where Lyme used to be rare, is now epidemic. I have a lot of friends in Maine, and it’s alarming  how many of them have gotten Lyme in the past two years.

Think you’re safe in the desert? I know people who have gotten Lyme in Texas and Arizona.

If you think there isn’t Lyme in your state or your area, sadly, you’re wrong. Feel free to quiz me — tell me where you live. I’ll tell you the Lymies I know in that area.

Not just every US state, either. I know people with Lyme in France, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

The disturbing part of this is that the people who are supposed to be tracking the statistics are not always reliable. Therefore, the information you get about prevalence is unreliable.

For example, I know someone in Pennsylvania who got a Lyme test result (more on Lyme tests in a future post) that was positive under CDC criteria, which is the strictest there is. He called the state department of health — which doctors are supposed to contact to report any case of Lyme or other serious infectious disease — and the person he spoke to at that agency asked him not to report it. They said they didn’t want statistics showing that there is Lyme in Pennsylvania.

I don’t write these posts to scare or overwhelm you or impose a sense of helplessness. On the contrary, I want you to know the truth for the following reasons:

  1. You will take more steps to protect yourself,  including tick checks of yourself and animals (how-to coming up soon);
  2. You will be more likely to suspect Lyme if you or your dog gets sick with something that can’t be diagnosed — and therefore, get it diagnosed and be more likely to treat it swiftly and aggressively, which is your best defense against acute Lyme becoming chronic Lyme;
  3. You will consider, if you have one of the many diseases that Lyme often mimics, getting yourself evaluated for Lyme (more on this in a future post, too).

A final note. Here’s what scares me when I hear comments that suggest a lack of concern over Lyme in a particular area — it reminds me of the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

When AIDS first struck in the US, the primary patients were gay men, then IV drug users, then hemophiliacs. This led people who were not (or did not identify as) gay men, intravenous drug users, or hemophiliacs to believe they were safe.

Word started getting out in the communities of people who engaged in high-risk behavior about how to reduce those risk.  Using condoms, using clean needles, and a change in how the blood supply was monitored led to a leveling off and then decrease in the incidence of  new cases among these groups.

However, a lot of people still thought of AIDS as belonging to “the others,” as belonging to a group or class of people, as opposed to it being a disease that was passed by a virus found in various bodily fluids — bodily fluids we all have or can come into contact with. As a result, a lot of people who could have taken precautions to prevent getting HIV did not. This led to a tremendous rise in HIV among heterosexuals, and an epidemic among urban women of color, in particular.

Hopefully you all know that AIDS is not a “gay disease” or a “druggie disease.” Likewise, Lyme is not a “New England disease.”

Lyme disease does not belong to “the Northeast.” It isn’t only a risk “in the woods.” It isn’t about having deer in your area (a future post on the misconception that deer are the main carriers of Lyme disease).

Lyme is a risk anywhere there are ticks, and there are ticks anywhere there are hosts. Hosts are anything with blood in their veins (dogs, cats, birds, horses, mice, rats, marsupials, etc.).

Panicking never helps anything, but denial can be deadly. Please, rethink your level, and your dog’s level, of risk, and act on it.

Peace,

Sharon, the muse of Gadget (who suffered with Lyme for a long time due to my ignorance), and Barnum (who is learning to relax and accept tick-checking as a nightly massage)

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4 Responses to “Lyme Myths: “Not a Problem Here””


  1. 1 Starre June 5, 2011 at 7:58 am

    When you do the dog tick post, can you include a link on how to tick check yourself? I have long, thick hair and no assistant, and what I have found is incredibly unclear to me. (yay brainfail) Thanks!

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler June 5, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Absolutely, I will either include that info in the same post, or write a second post on how to tick-check yourself. Thank you for asking!

  3. 3 Karyn June 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    You wouldn’t believe how many people think it will be a waste of money for me to run a lyme panel on Thane this summer with his yearly exam. Oregon may not have what the Northeast has but I’m looking at the bigger picture- including the fact that Thane aint an Oregon native! smile Who knows what he encountered before he made it to me or since for that matter- we’ve had some interesting adventures and some places could easily be a good place for ticks.

    I’m curious, if you don’t remove a tick, does it stay attached or do they eventually fall off and die? Being blind and a quad, I just wonder how much I miss and if I missed something, how long would it remain?

    I’m also curious about how much you might know about incidence of Lyme here in Oregon (NW part of state)

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler June 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Hi Karyn,

    I’m glad you’re getting a titer on Thane.

    Oregon actually has a fairly high rate of Lyme. It’s not as high as the Northeast or Wisconsin and Minnesota, but the whole West Coast is a higher-incidence area. I know many people in Oregon and Washington who have Lyme, and California is considered to be high incidence. The closer you are to water, the higher the incidence of Lyme, generally speaking.

    I should probably do a post on the life-cycle of ticks, but briefly, they will stay attached until they are fully engorged, which takes three or four days, I think. (I need to look that up.) Then, they fall off to digest, and if female, to lay eggs. So, it’s not a good thing if one falls off in your house.

    The ideal way to tick check is to use your fingers, and then verify with your eyes that it is a tick, and not a nipple or a pimple or something. Without sight, you can still do a pretty thorough job. In your case, since you have limited use of your hands — or for someone who is blind and has neuropathy which limits sensation in the fingers — I’m thinking the best thing would be to try to feel as much as possible, and then use a very fine-tooth comb, like a flea comb, because occasionally if there is one loose in the fur, or if it is not attached firmly, you can pull it out that way.

    Does your incomplete quadriplegia affect how much sensation you have in your finger tips? Or is it more an issue of coordination or strength? Because the most effective tick-checking involves feeling them with your fingertips.


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