No blogs for so long? Well, there is a really good reason for that and I’m so sorry to have been unable to keep you up to date. Unfortunately, I was bitten by a tick (also known as a garrapata), which made me very ill and I am still recovering. A tick is a tiny invertebrate that looks like an insect but is, in fact, an arachnid (same ‘family’ as spiders and scorpions) having eight legs, not six). There are many hundreds of different types but most of those found in the UK and Europe are the tiny black legged tick or deer tick which is the one that carries a potentially devastating illness called Lyme disease. Their size bears no relation to the damage they can do. Not all ticks carry disease but infected ticks can cause irreparable harm to animals and humans. And they are on the march, having spread from cooler mountainous areas to warmer climes. Ticks feed on the blood of their host -- humans, dogs, cats. birds, reptiles, and animals in the wild. Ticks are referred to as terrestrial, meaning they cannot fly. They travel on anything that moves and then get brushed off onto plants and onto the ground before being picked up by another passer-by. It has become a very serious problem.
Many of us are familiar with ticks on animals. The troublemakers tend not to be noticed until they have gorged themselves with blood and hang off the animal’s coat like some kind of distended balloon. Gross! If the animal has been treated regularly with anti-tick medications, then once the tick is removed, there is usually no problem. The situation with humans is much more serious as we have no protection. Not only is it all too easy to collect ticks as we walk through bushes, close to undergrowth or under trees, we can also pick them up as they walk, yes walk, from our pet’s coat onto our skin! Not every tick carries the disease. If you are bitten and find a red spot or bump at the site of the bite, this does not mean you have Lyme disease. However it is important to seek medical advice so you can be checked. DO NOT IGNORE A TICK BITE! Some doctors say that patients should wait until they have symptoms before seeking help. PLEASE DON’T WAIT. The earlier the treatment for infected tick bites, the more likely a full recovery.
In my case, the little blighter dropped down from a branch onto my clothes while I was gardening. Ticks love to hide on the body and will crawl anywhere that makes them harder to detect such as the underarms, groin, behind or inside the ears, on the scalp, back of the neck or backs of the knees. In my case, it stuck to my shoulder blade. It was my husband that spotted it.
I thought it was a leaf that had fallen down the back of my blouse and paid no attention until I woke up during the night in terrible pain and covered head to foot in a red rash. The tell-tale sign of a tick bite is a bright red rash which forms concentric circles around the bite, often several large red rings spreading to 30 cm (12”) or more. If this happens to you, get medical help immediately. And I mean right away without delay even if it is the middle of the night. Fast treatment with the right type of antibiotics is absolutely essential. The first doctor I consulted insisted I had an allergy. The second doctor diagnosed Lyme disease but gave me the wrong antibiotics. Thankfully, the third doctor knew exactly what she was doing and the error was quickly corrected.
Untreated, a bite from an infected tick can cause multiple symptoms including serious damage to the nervous system but may not show up until several years after the bite, by which time it is often too late for treatment. Late-stage symptoms can include neck stiffness, painful joints, repeated headaches, irregular or slowed heartbeat, insomnia and, more seriously, inflammation of the spinal cord and/or brain, and facial palsy where the facial muscles droop downwards.
Even with fast treatment using the right antibiotics, a person can still suffer debilitating symptoms such as sudden exhaustion, complete lack of energy, joint and muscle pain, skin sensitivity, heart palpitations, extreme perspiration, and repeated headaches for up to two years after the bite happened. Because regular (non-specialist) blood tests for Borrelia burgdorferi (the tick bacteria) are generally unreliable and can give false results, it is often impossible to know if and when treatment has been successful. A more accurate blood test, one which is not widely available, can cost several thousand pounds, euros or dollars just for a single test and so is out of reach of most patients. I was SO lucky that I found a very switched-on doctor who knew a lot about Lyme disease, knew which antibiotics to prescribe (doxycycline) and understood the need for immediate treatment. But even after all these months I still have to deal with multiple symptoms and have no way of knowing what the future holds. That tick bite left me with ultra sensitive skin, sensitivity to light, severe joint and muscle pain, increased pain if I am tired or cold, migrainous headaches, periods of sudden exhaustion and the need to sleep at odd times; and it was all caused by something the size of a poppy seed. I'm not bemoaning my fate, I was one of the lucky ones, but I make no apologies for boring the pants of anyone who will listen. I met someone recently who contracted symptoms many years after she was bitten because she did not realise a tick bite was serious and so did not seek help at the time. Her symptoms are way more devastating than mine.
I'm staying positive that my symptoms eventually disappear. In the meantime, I look after myself as best I can, emotionally and physically, making sure I rest and that I eat as healthily as possible. But that doesn't stop me wanting to do whatever I can to pass the message along so that as many people as possible learn about this potentially devastating disease and thereby reduce the risk of contracting it.
Please share this blog with everyone you know.
SYMPTOMS OF LYME DISEASE
- Red rash
- Pain at the site of the bite (Some websites will tell you that the bite area does not hurt but this is not always true. In my case it was really painful)
- Joint and muscle pain
- Chills and fever
- Sudden exhaustion
The red rash is a tell-tale sign of Lyme disease, usually starting off at the point of the bite and then spreading gradually over a few days. The immediate area around the bite will be red, hot and sore and then the rash may spread to the whole body. Not everyone gets the bull’s-eye rash but may get a mass of red spots or an all over body rash instead. Some people don’t get a rash at all. My doctor told me I was lucky to get the rash and the target rings around the bite as this meant a definite diagnosis (first consulted doctor who missed this, please note) whereas people who don’t get a rash may be harder to diagnose.
LOOK OUT FOR:
- A dark mark or speck on your skin that seems to be stuck to you.
- A dark mark or speck on - or walking across - your pet’s fur. Although ticks are more common on dogs than cats, any household pets should be regularly inspected and treated with tick prevention medication (i.e. regularly monthly spot-on and, for dogs, also special shampoo).
- Red circles around a bite mark (commonly referred to as a bull-eye or target).
Never try to remove a tick with your bare fingers. Either use a tick remover stick,, available from pet shops and from your local vet, or a pair of tweezers. And don’t pull. Simply twist it to remove. Put the tick into a sealed container and take it with you to show the doctor or veterinary surgeon. Whatever happens, it is imperative to seek medical treatment for yourself or veterinary treatment for your pet.
IMPORTANT: Antibiotics need to be taken for several weeks. This is because the bacteria carried by infected ticks is not only hard to detect (a blood test may show normal results even if the bacteria is still present in the system), it’s even harder to eradicate. If your doctor does not seem familiar with Lyme disease or recommends antibiotics for only one week, then query this.
The following websites may be helpful:
Highly recommended: http://danielcameronmd.com/