I don’t know about you, but I’m betting most of the country is satisfied overall with the relatively short winter we’ve had this year. At least my family in normally-snow-covered Minnesota is! But, there is a down side . . . with a short winter comes an early spring, which means Lyme disease season is coming early this year.
In fact, ecologists predict that a surge of Lyme disease will occur in the Northeast. But when it comes down to it, they don’t attribute it to the early spring. It actually has more to do with mice and acorns than anything else, which we'll go over in a bit. First, let’s talk a little about what Lyme disease is, how you can get it, symptoms, and possible medical treatments as well as one very successful natural treatment.
What Exactly is Lyme Disease?
According to the Mayo Clinic, Lyme disease, or Borrelia burgdorferi (try saying that five times fast!), is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe. It is spread through the deer tick, which loves heavily wooded areas with tons of grass. Deer ticks need only three bloodmeals (which is exactly what it sounds like) in their entire lives: once as larvae, then as nymphs, and finally as adults. The bloodmeal is usually from woodland rodents, though in the absence of such rodents, the ticks seek out other sources for blood: aka, YOU. So if you live in a grassy or wooded area, or spend a lot of time outdoors in such environments, it's important to take the right precautions to prevent Lyme disease.
If you do have to visit the great outdoors during tick season, wear gloves, a hat, long pants and long sleeved shirts. Also, wear brightly colored clothes when possible, so you'll be able to easily spot any ticks that may have jumped on you.
One option to prevent ticks from sucking your blood is to use insect repellant. However, it is important not to overdo the amount of repellent you spray on yourself as it is toxic; so use only what you have to. Recently, studies have shown that scenting oneself with "eau de eucalyptus" before going outside is an alternative tick repellent that is just as strong as the chemicals used in repellant, but without the toxicity. The benefit here is that it can also be applied to your pets if they go outside. Simply spray their coat with a light mixture of eucalyptus oil and water, and you will have given them the same amount of protection that you'd receive from the high-end tick repellents.
Even if you wore bright clothing that day and bathed yourself in insect repellent (or eucalyptus oil), there is always a chance a tick still landed on you. That's why it's important to vigilantly inspect yourself, your children and your pets after spending time outside. The deer ticks are usually no bigger than the head of a pin, so you really have to look closely. Try to shower as soon as you come indoors, because ticks usually take at least a few hours to attach themselves. By bathing with a washcloth, you may remove all of the unattached but lingering ticks.
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of Lyme disease include rashes, a small red bump at the site of the tick bite, fever, chills, severe fatigue, body aches, joint pains, and neurological problems such as meningitis, Bell's palsy (which is the paralysis of one side of your face), weak or numb limbs, and impaired motor skills. These symptoms can appear weeks, months, or even years after an infection is left untreated. If you suspect you may have been bitten by a tick, contact your physician immediately to rule out Lyme disease.
In the case that you do develop Lyme disease, several options are available; and most patients suffering from Lyme disease make a complete recovery. The two most common treatments for Lyme disease include oral antibiotics, which work best with early-stage Lyme disease and intravenous antibiotics that are more effective for advanced stages of Lyme disease. There are a few side effects associated with intravenous antibiotics, but the danger is significantly lower than the health problems posed by Lyme disease (usually just muscle fatigue).
So, What about the Acorns?
As mentioned earlier, ecologists are predicting a major surge of Lyme disease in the northeastern United States. Usually, acorns grow plentiful in this area and are able to sustain large forest mouse populations. Because of the large mouse populations, ticks usually latch onto these mice for all three of their necessary bloodmeals. The mice could care less, as they are not really affected by Lyme disease.
Last year, however, was one of the smallest acorn crops scientists have seen, causing the mouse population to completely crash and wither out. Now that the ticks have no mice for their bloodmeals, they must venture outwards . . . and it is here that they encounter us. If a 20-year trend is to be followed, this year could be the all-time highest for Lyme disease if you live in the northeastern U.S. So keep those preventative measures in mind!