Anyone Else Forgetting to Be Freaked Out about Lyme Disease?

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Back in May of 2018 I ranted about the “New Look for Gardeners Freaked out about Lyme Disease” using this image of a hazmat suit for yucks to illustrate the get-up I was using to prevent tick bites and potentially Lyme Disease.

Not so funny now that we’re accustomed to seeing people outfitted like this:

Dr. Clayton McCarl, dentist in Greenbelt, Md.

Or like this dentist – my dentist. He sent me the photo to illustrate a story I wrote about how his practice has responded to COVID.  (I’m too nervous to keep my own cleaning appointment. Trying to stay gum-healthy on my own.)

But about ticks, that post ended with “What, if anything, can I do in the garden without gearing up in protective clothing? Having found no answer to that question, here’s my plan: Just water. Touch no plants. Which makes this gardener just so sad.”

Well, of course I DON’T gear up in PPE every time I touch a plant. This year I’ve only been gearing for major projects like moving plants or getting in the middle of shrubs to prune them.

So how’s that been working out for me? I’ve had 5 tick bites so far – that I’ve found! So I called my primary care doc and she prescribed a one-time dose of doxycycline, with enough for four more bites. Here’s the idea:

An antibiotic taken within 72 hours of being bitten by a deer tick carrying Lyme disease can prevent people from developing the illness. Only about 3% of people who are bitten by ticks will develop Lyme disease, which is characterized by persistent fatigue and pain.

3 percent! I like those odds.

But more googling reveals that not all docs are prescribing it:

In [a] study of nearly 500 adults, a single dose — two pills — of the antibiotic doxycycline taken within 72 hours of being bitten was 87% effective in preventing Lyme disease. But because the antibiotic treatment causes side effects like nausea and vomiting in about 30% of people, experts say doctors shouldn’t give it unless the person is fairly certain the tick that bit them was fat — as opposed to flat, meaning it was somewhat engorged — and that it was indeed a tick.

Of course it’s chronic Lyme Disease that scares the bejesus out of me.

A small percentage of people who do contract Lyme disease will continue to have symptoms such as fatiguearthritis, muscle and joint pain, and mood and memory problems after undergoing the standard 10- to 21-day course of antibiotics. Some doctors treat this “chronic” Lyme disease with long-term antibiotics, but few studies have shown the treatment to be effective.

Reading this again does calm me down a bit – especially in light of the much more serious disease I’m hearing about every waking minute of every day.

But if I DID want to up my game this year and do a better job of avoiding ticks, these get-ups don’t look so awful.  Again, compared to medical PPEs.

Lyme Vaccine on the Horizon!

This post was prompted by the news of a vaccine against Lyme crossing my Facebook feed last week, which seemed to promise a safer, less freaked-out life for us gardeners.

Well, that happy bubble lasted until the end of the VERY FIRST SENTENCE:

A vaccine against Lyme disease has been shown to be safe and effective in a clinical trial and could be available by 2025.

So the prediction is for four more years of worrying about Lyme and even worse, extrapolating that whiplash of good-to-bad news to the future of a vaccine for COVID-19.

On that note, I’m gonna go garden.

PEE photo credit: Johnson and Johnson.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I wear a mosquito suit when I am out in the garden, other wise I would be covered in bites (a dozen or more). It also protects me from ticks. The construction workers building the house next door to ours laugh every time they see me in that suit. BTW, I look like the woman in the first photo.

  2. Been battling this pain in the a** disease for 14 years after a false negative test meant no treatment for a year. Doxy doesn’t work to bring it under control for me unless it’s combined with tincture of teasel. And it’s meant eating pretty clean to keep flare ups down. I’ve had to compartmentalize the Lyme Disease thing into “Just part of the deal of being a gardener” or I’d never get out there. I’m willing to bet you’re going to get a lot of comments on this post. Patients are desperate for answers that are not forthcoming – it’s only been in the last six years or so that they are no longer considered crazy hypochondriacs. Bizarre disease.

  3. When I found an attached tick and went to my doc, he belittled me. “Oh, we don’t get Lyme disease around here.” I pushed, and he gave me Doxycycline, but I could tell he thought I was over-reacting. After all I’ve read about Lyme disease, I don’t want it. And maybe we don’t get it around here (Texas), but then again, doctors have been known to be wrong.

    • I was told we don’t have lyme around us too. I went from dr to dr being told i was getting old (39). I finally was recommended a naturopath/chiropractor. It was almost 8 years (!) after i found three (!) giant bullseye bites. I was so sick (its the flu we dont have lyme). My garden is horrible this year, between bad bad weather, and old seeds ( time for new ones). I have phlox and day lily to move and I’m afraid to go out there. My hands are in knots by now! And from time to time, like malaria, i get neurological symptoms. Not fun…

  4. A commenter sent me this and asked me to post it anonymously. So sad…and scary. Susan

    “I just read your rant about Lyme’s disease. Unfortunately there is something even worse that is now in New Jersey, coming down from Canada, and will reach DC eventually as deer ticks follow climate and habitat changes. It’s Powassan virus.”

    She went on to say her husband had died recently of Powassan virus, which he caught from a tick bite.

    “The NJ Health Department recommends Permethrin (order online) to spray on clothes and boots and Picaridin (available are drug stores) to rub onto skin. These chemicals are good for all ticks and mosquitos and the viruses they carry.”

  5. All of these pests really suck the joy out of gardening season. We had two glorious years sans mosquitoes but with the wet Spring they have made up for lost time. The mosquito jacket and pants are de rigeur here if you want to get outside. The hood can be hard to see through as the sun reflects off it but I do enjoy the mosquito’s frantic whining when they can’t get at me.

  6. My husband loves to work in our woods here in Maine. We have deer ticks up the wazoo. He got Lyme late last summer but did not realize it till I begged him to get tested. He finally did in Dec. and went on 3 weeks of doxy. His symptoms mimicked early dementia in some ways. This disease is NOT to be taken lightly. And now ticks carry at least 5 different diseases that are all nasty. We do tick checks on each other every time we come back inside. It’s just part of a routine now since we still want to be outside as much as we can. We still garden, walk in the woods and fields, gather blackberries and apples but we check our clothes and bodies VERY carefully. Stay safe. Using Permethrin on clothing does help but be careful to not put it on rubber boots or boot soles since it kind of “eats” those away. With all that, happy gardening!

  7. Been monitoring close to 200 nest boxes a year for 25 years. Do tick checks every day. Pull deer ticks off every night. I’m fine. I do worry about the new tick diseases, but not Lyme.

    Tick. checks. daily.
    Like flossing.

  8. In fact, I am very supportive of the movement that helps fight Lyme disease. This is very important so that you never understand when she will overtake you and it is very sad if this is actually the case. The worst thing is that it does not appear immediately in a mild form. Tracking it down is hard enough, unfortunately. Therefore, it is important to always check yourself after the forest or garden.

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