REFLECTIONS: Don’t let a tick get you sick with Lyme disease

A deer tick.
A deer tick.

When I was a kid, I loved to play in the woods. My buddies and I were all over Mount Penn, playing war games, building tree forts, hiking, scaling rocks, hiding out from our parents.

Who knew then that ticks, those nasty little critters, would someday make the woods a dangerous place for kids to hang out?

Back in the day, I thought lime was for lining baseball fields. I had never heard of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease today has hijacked Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is one of the worst states for Lyme. It is a problem of compelling severity.

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Our ticks must be particularly prolific blood suckers. There seems to be no limit to their dominion. They target us like a starving wolf tracking a pork chop. They are absolutely, indefatigably relentless.

If you go outdoors today, you should almost be layered in sheet metal because you are putting yourself squarely in the crosshairs. It’s akin to being dipped in seal butter and being dropped into a polar bear’s cage.

Lyme disease can be bad enough to curl an executioner’s toes.

It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is often transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick.

Ticks typically get the bacterium by biting infected animals, like deer and mice. Ticks who don’t cook or order take out, feed off other animals or people. In the process of sucking blood, they transmit disease.

Lyme symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, a bull’s eye rash may appear, and other symptoms that can be mistaken for viral infections, such as influenza or infectious mononucleosis.

Joint pain can be mistaken for other types of arthritis, such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), and neurologic signs of Lyme disease can mimic those caused by other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

When detected early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, the disease can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.

Early diagnosis is important in preventing late-stage complications. Classic signs of untreated cases can include migratory pain or arthritis, impaired motor and sensory skills and an enlarged heart.

Most people who contract Lyme get it from nymphal ticks, the immature ones. Because nymphs are as small as poppy seeds and their bite is painless, many people don’t notice or remove them.

An excellent way to protect yourself is to wear insect-repellent clothing. The fabric has been treated with a special process that binds permethrin (a repellent) to the fibers.

It’s important to protect your feet, since nymphal ticks are often on the ground.

You should also apply insect repellent to exposed skin. Repellents that include DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil are most effective.

While in the field, check yourself periodically for ticks. Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove any embedded ticks you may find.

When you come in for the day, you should do two things: Run all your clothing through a hot dryer for at least 10 minutes, which will kill any live ticks that might be present in your clothing. Then take a shower and thoroughly check your entire body.

Better yet, stay indoors all the time and read a good book.