Monday, October 12, 2009

Fall Update on Ticks and Lyme Disease on Cape Cod

While out walking in the glorious pine and oak forest that dominates the National Seashore, it’s hard to make oneself remember that this landscape is prime habitat for deer ticks carrying Lyme and other infectious diseases. According to a Cape Cod Times article by Cynthia McCormick, tick-bourne diseases are getting more attention now that the victims live in western Massachusetts and Worcester, as well as Cape Cod & the Islands, which, I suppose, is a good thing. Anyone who has read this blog for a while already knows I had Lyme three years ago and that it knocked me out. I lost all energy for three months. Thanks to a doctor-friend, I was able to obtain six to eight weeks of antibiotics, “since there had been a delay in my diagnosis” rather than the three-week course Wellfleet doctors proposed. I also had the good fortune of consulting an alternative medicine doctor, afterward, who gave follow-up herbs (Cat’s Claw) and something called “Transfer Factor Basics.” I was able to avoid chronic Lyme (touch wood!) for now. Everyone is not so lucky. A friend in town suffers periodic bouts of fatigue. Those nasty spirochetes must be hiding out in his cells, undetected and free to turn a vibrant man into an invalid at will. While I was taking the antibiotics, I made myself walk a short distance every day, visualizing the meds scattering through my body, on the prowl for renegade spirochetes and zapping them, one after the other. Longer-term treatment for Lyme is controversial, and patients suffer while doctors bicker about what works. You can guess which side the insurance companies are on! This seems to be the problem with Lyme research: specialists who disagree. Diagnosis is tough. I had no bull's eye rash, and my first Lyme test was negative. Late diagnosis is problematic because early intake of Doxycycline is key to stopping the spirochetes.

Ticks frequent shady terrain with leaf cover. Since it takes them a while to sniff out a potential victim, my theory is to keep moving, not pause and rest on a log, for instance, and to always wear bug spray. Ticks seem to advance more slowly when the weather turns colder, but adult ticks persist as a threat until frost. I had the oak tree by the cottage cut down, since mice feed on acorns, so we substantially reduced the local field mouse population. Ticks also travel on birds, but there is no way Sven is giving up his feeder. In the woods, it is practically impossible to reduce habitat since the forest has a bed of leaf mold. I always warn guests about ticks. They are out there, lurking, in search of their next blood meal. If a tick manages to attach itself, remove immediately, destroy, wash hands. It is believed that Lyme is transmitted only after a tick has been sucking blood for 24-36 hours. Read about my May encounter with a tick and a nifty gadget for tick removal here.

The situation on the Outer Cape isn't as dire as Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, although you never find this information in travel brochures. I have one friend from Nantucket who caught Lyme three times! She now lives in Wellfleet, Lyme-free but ever conscious of the risk of re-infection.

From the Cape Cod Times article, “One bill before a state legislative panel would create a special commission to study Lyme disease. Another would protect doctors who treat Lyme by prescribing antibiotics beyond the single 28-day course recommended by the CDC.” I will try to find out more details and report back. President Bush had Lyme disease and there was no rush to fund research for a cure. What will it take for Lyme disease to get the attention it deserves? Have you had Lyme? Do you know anyone with chronic Lyme?