Summer is heating up and insect activity is rising with the temperature.
There are bee stings to avoid and mosquitoes to swat. And ticks are a summer pest whose danger goes far beyond the blood-sucking creep factor. They can spread disease, notably Lyme disease, which can have lasting deleterious health effects.
Former PGA Tour player Tim Simpson is a testament to what Lyme can do.
He contracted the disease in 1991 from tick bites sustained on a hunting trip. His health declined steadily and he developed a tremor in his left hand. He lost over 80 percent of his large muscle strength, suffered uncontrollable tremors and was forced to retire from competition.
He later had brain surgery to try to control the muscle tremors in his hand. It helped, but not enough.
Simpson, who now teaches golf in metro Atlanta, made a comeback on the Champion’s Tour, but he left competition for good in 2011. He admits he was never the same after contracting Lyme.
“(Lyme disease) does muscle and joint damage and severe neurological damage. There’s not a whole lot in your body that Lyme disease doesn’t affect,” Simpson said.
“It took me from the top of the world to out of the game and I should have quit before I did. (It’s) devastating. It’s like an Olympic sprinter who wakes up one day and can’t walk.”
Lyme disease is among the fastest growing insect-borne infectious disease in the country, said Dr. Keith Berndtson of Park Ridge MultiMed, a group practice in Illinois.
There were two cases reported in Georgia in 2002, which jumped to 32 in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infection rates are higher in northeastern states. New Jersey, for example, reported more than 3,300 cases in 2011.
Lyme disease is generally curable with antibiotics when diagnosed and treated early. If untreated or under-treated, it can quickly spread to other parts of the body and cause an array of debilitating long-lasting symptoms like Simpson experienced.
Berndtson wrote a study that suggests Lyme may evolve into a persistent infection with long-term effects.
“And it presents a challenge to doctors because there is still no definitive answer to the question of whether the chronic illness that afflicts some Lyme patients is due to the after-effects of infection or to a still-present infection,” Berndtson said.
Up to two out of 10 treated patients suffer from symptoms such as muscle and joint pains, cognitive defects, sleep disturbance and fatigue for months and even years following treatment.
“The question is whether these symptoms are due to a persistent infection or to an autoimmune response, in which the immune system damages the body’s tissues by continuing to respond even after the infection has been eliminated,” Berndtson said.
The disease often goes unrecognized and can be difficult to diagnose.
According to recent statistics from the CDC, the 30,000-40,000 cases of Lyme disease officially recorded from 2008 to 2011 represent only 10 percent of actual incidences of the disease. That is why it is important for those spending time outdoors this summer to check themselves for ticks, watch for symptoms and go to a doctor if the symptoms appears.
“The onset of warm weather is the best time to ensure that the whole family knows the best ways to minimize the risk of contracting tick-borne disease,” Berndtson said.
Symptoms that a tick bite may have given you Lyme disease:
- Red, expanding rash called around the bite point
- Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes
- Facial or Bell’s palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face)
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Pain and swelling in the large joints
- Shooting pains that may interfere with sleep
- Heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat
Many of these symptoms will resolve over a period of weeks to months, even without treatment. However, lack of treatment can result in additional complications.
To remove a tick that has already bitten:
- Pull upward on the body with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the parts easily with clean tweezers, leave the area alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.
- Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible, not waiting for it to detach.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Tips from Dr. Keith Berndtson for avoiding the insects:
• Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks in high-risk areas.
• The CDC recommends using an insect repellent containing DEET on skin and permethrin on clothing to repel ticks.
• Check the body often, especially the legs, for ticks. This is easier to do if clothing is light in color. Ticks can be tiny; if it looks like a freckle that’s moving, it’s likely a tick.
• An end-of-day check for ticks attached to the skin is also critical. It can take more than 24 hours for an attached tick to transmit disease-causing bacteria, so it’s still possible to avoid infection.
• Check pets when they come in from outdoors.
Dr. Berndtson’s paper, a review of evidence for immune evasion and infection in Lyme disease, was published by the International Journal of General Medicine in April 2013.