Tick-borne Disease in Maine (Part Four): Living with Lyme, falling prey
Cool fall weather and the change in colors lends to familiar sounds of frolicking in leaf piles, haunted hayrides and the scent of warm apple pie and hot cider. As a child, I looked forward to this every year. As an adult, I cringe because I am all too familiar with the dangers that lurk. The news media and most recently, “The Today Show,” shared of a rare new tick-borne disease, Anaplasmosis, but here in Maine, it is not so rare to us. In fact, it is one of the top three tick-borne diseases that the state surveys. And just how fast is it growing? In Part One (Statistical Data), I shared in 2016 a total count of 372 cases reported and 2017 year-to-date, we were at 401 by midsummer. The same tick that carries Lyme disease also is known to carry Anaplasmosis as well as other tick-borne diseases.
Anaplasmosis is not rare; it is here and on the rise in Maine and we are hearing more and more stories of people who are affected by it. Many find themselves in the hospital for treatment because of the severity of symptoms. Prevention is key to staying tick-free and we need to continue wearing repellent on skin and clothing and doing tick checks when we come inside. Misconception can lead to chronic illness and chronic illness of any kind affects more than just the patient. It affects families, relationships, marriages, jobs and communities. What’s even more disturbing is when those charged with the care of the patient do not fully understand the scope of the illness and subsequent symptoms as they manifest and present.
In my travels across Midcoast Maine, I am talking with people about their awareness of tick-borne disease and their prevention practices and I am seeing a decline as the weather changes. Last summer, the hot weather made people think that the threat of ticks was gone. What we ended up with was an increase in tick-borne disease cases reported that fall. When we let our guard down, when we stop using prevention and doing tick checks, we suddenly find ourselves exposed to a tick encounter and falling prey to whatever tick-borne disease we’ve been expose to. What comes next is the most pivotal part of the prevention talk that I give. We have been conditioned to think “tick bite = Lyme disease” and when the classic bulls eye rash does not appear, we push it from our minds. What we need to be conditioned to is “tick bite = potential tick-borne disease exposure” because there are over 14 ticks in Maine and over 50 percent of them are carrying tick-borne diseases but only one strain of one disease produces the bulls eye in approx. Fifty percent of those who are infected. So, you get a tick bit but no rash. Should you be concerned? Absolutely! Get that tick tested and boost your immune system until you know what you’ve been exposed to. That is the only defense that you have. Current testing relies on an antibody response and if you test too soon or too late, or your immune system is already compromised by other health issues, your body will not produce what is needed to guide your medical provider in the right direction. Get that tick tested and you will know in three days what, if anything, you’ve been exposed to.
Fall in Maine should be fun. Children and pets should be playing outdoors, hayrides and corn mazes should be nothing more than entertainment. Prevention is your first line of defense for protecting you and your loved ones against the growing threat of a tiny enemy. With all the layers of clothing and outdoor activity, you’re not going to see these ticks until it’s too late. It takes just minutes to apply your repellent and do your tick checks. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure ~ just ask someone who’s been touched by a tick-borne disease.
Mark your calendars: On Nov. 1, Igenex Laboratories will be at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick from 6-8 p.m., hosting a Q&A Night and sharing about the new Lyme test that they collaborated with the CDC on developing.
Paula is the president of the MLDSE, the Maine-partner of the national Lyme Disease Association, a member of Maine’s CDC Vector-borne Workgroup and active in Maine’s Lyme legislation. You can reach her at email@example.com