Lyme – Right in our backyard
By Linda Lea Ph.D, CPCC
May is Lyme Awareness month and also the peak season in Northern California for the tiny but dangerous nymphal ticks. They are living in our leaf litter, parks, fields, forests and backyards. Most ticks will find a mouse, squirrel or deer for their bloodmeal; some will latch onto an unlucky human. The longer they are attached, the more likely they are to transmit infection to their host.
This month is dedicated to all the people who are infected with Lyme, and also to remember those who have died because of this illness. May is a month to reflect on better education so that we can eradicate Lyme.
Currently there is more information available about Lyme as the rate of infection increases in Sonoma County. Last year the Centers for Disease Control increased its estimate of the number of new cases to 300,000 nationwide annually, saying the true numbers were 10 times greater than the reported cases.
Local health officials and support groups are gathering to compile information on how to prevent infection and increase education for the general population. Vector Control has posted signs in many regional parks warning visitors of the possibility and dangers of tick exposure. There are also billboards posted around the county to educate local residents that ticks are here and on the rise. Ticks are not only in our personal living space, they are on our animals as well.
The danger is real for our animals and I have a personal commitment to finding ways to prevent animals from suffering from this deadly infection. My beloved Lab, Sundance, was diagnosed a few years ago with Lyme and died two years later. Lyme traveled to his brain and altered the quality of his life. We were avid hikers, forging through wooded parks and somewhere along the way, I was infected. Two years ago, after seeing several doctors, I was diagnosed with Lyme. My symptoms crept up on me over time and it was not until I had a major full blown onset and went for treatment, that I realized I have chronic Lyme. Patients with chronic Lyme are often unable to work, end up on disability and are five times more likely to be seen in emergency rooms.
Betty Owens was infected with Lyme in her own backyard in 1988.
Betty Owens, currently living in Oakmont, was infected in her own backyard when she lived in Rincon Valley in 1988. Her symptoms were flu-like, severe fatigue, muscle, joint pain, neurologic pain and seizures. She had seen numerous doctors before being diagnosed with Lyme.
Betty received extensive treatment with antibiotics and has improved but has never fully regained her previous level of health. Thus, she has been a Lyme Disease advocate because of the lack of awareness and education regarding this disease. Betty feels that no one should have to suffer as many people still do because of the lack of awareness and education. This is slowly changing. The important thing is to not give up hope and see numerous doctors until you find the answers. We can end this terrible disease by being aware of the danger, and being smart when we spend time outdoors.
Ways to avoid Lyme disease:
• Use sprays containing Permethrin on clothing and DEET on skin.
• Avoid tick-infested areas and check yourself frequently for tiny ticks for several days following exposure.
• Remove any biting ticks promptly, using tweezers or a special tick-remover.
• Do not twist, squeeze or mutilate the tick. Try not to get any tick fluids on your bare skin.
• Disinfect the bite area and wash your hands.
• Save the tick in a small vial or plastic bag for testing. Testing can be done at the Sonoma County Health Department Laboratory. 565-4711.
• Watch the area for any signs of a developing rash.
• See a doctor knowledgeable about Lyme disease if you experience a rash or flu-like illness after exposure to ticks.
For more information visit www.LymeDisease.org.