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  • Writer's pictureThe Low Down

Stay ticked off!

By Paul Hetzler

While black flies and mosquitoes may be annoying, a tick bite can change your life forever. Right now, deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are active, and the Outaouais is considered a “tick hotspot.”

Deer ticks vector Lyme disease and other scourges, and can transmit multiple pathogens simultaneously.

Our understanding of tick-borne illness has changed radically in the past few years. For instance, the expanding “bull’s-eye” rash, once deemed a hallmark of Lyme disease, is now recognized to be present

in a minority of cases. We also know that deer ticks are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete bacterium that causes Lyme, at rates much higher than previously thought.

Early indications of Lyme vary so widely that “typical” symptoms do not exist. Although Lyme often presents with chills, fever, and joint pain, the first sign can be heart palpitations or sudden, marked confusion. Night sweats, memory loss, or extreme fatigue are also possible early signs. Because Lyme can cause such a wide range of symptoms, it is often misdiagnosed as dementia, mental illness, or other


Diagnosis is also hampered by the lack of a reliable blood test. The commonly used Western blot test was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the 1970s as a survey tool, and was never intended to be diagnostic. Because the original CDC test is costly to administer as designed, each testing lab uses its own cut-down version of the Western blot, and also sets criteria for interpreting the results. Because of this, the Western blot has a notoriously high false-negative rate of at least 36

per cent, and possibly as high as 60 or more per cent.

If you feel ill after a tick bite, call your doctor. Prompt treatment is vital — Lyme can cause irreversible joint, cardiac, and nerve damage. Most people respond to antibiotic treatment, but some take months or years to recover. Stevia alcohol extract (not powder) has been shown to vastly increase the efficacy of antibiotics. Little is known about “Post-Lyme Syndrome” beyond that it’s an autoimmune issue and can

last indefinitely, with dire impacts on quality of life.

Lyme diagnosis should always be made based on clinical presentation, not blood tests. Certainly, if a bull’s-eye rash is present, that is 100 per cent diagnostic of Lyme.

When hiking, stay off deer trails. Use products with 20-30 per cent DEET on exposed skin, and treat clothing and footwear with 0.5 per cent permethrin. Treat pets with systemic products or tick collars, and talk to a vet about getting your animals Lyme-vaccinated.

Check for ticks daily after showering. Ticks prefer hard-to-see places like armpits, groin, scalp, and backs of knees. Beltlines and sock hems, too. Early detection is critical: It takes 24 hours for ticks to transmit Lyme, and beyond that we are at risk.

Heat, oil, and other home-remedies cause ticks to inject you with their disease-riddled gut contents, so if you find an embedded tick, tweeze it as close to the skin as possible, and pull up steadily until it releases. Mouthpart fragments usually remain in the skin. It’s normal, and doesn’t increase the risk of illness. Just apply a topical antibiotic.

For more information, visit or Stay ticked off!

Paul Hetzler is a former Cornell Extension Educator.


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