The trails in Santa Barbara, Ca are beautiful and amazing this time of year, especially after our recent rainfall. We must, however, share them with many other creatures including ticks. May through June and October through December are the designated tick “seasons,” but ticks are present year-round. Ticks can transmit certain diseases through their bites including Lyme disease and a number of known co-infections.
Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector borne infectious disease today. It has been reported in all 50 US states and more than 65 countries. There are 329,000 new cases each year in the US. On the West Coast, Lyme is carried by the Western blacklegged tick, more commonly known as the deer tick, which is prevalent in the Santa Barbara area. Its primary host is the grey squirrel.
Lyme disease can be an insidious malady. It mimics many diseases such as chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, neck stiffness, joint pain, and arthritis. As a result, it is often overlooked by physicians. Adding to its dangerous nature, most people never recall even being bitten. Ticks will also “hide” on your pets so be sure to check them if they join you on our local trails.
Early Lyme disease symptoms usually develop within the first few weeks of a tick bite. Flu like symptoms (low-grade fevers, muscle aches, fevers, chills/sweats, fatigue & joint pains) are common signs of early Lyme disease. There may also be a rash at the site of the tick bite. The typical Lyme rash will occur within a few days to weeks after the tick bite. It may occur at the site of the bite or at a distant location. Usually it is a red expanding rash sometimes called a “bullseye”. It may have a scabby, bruise-like or blistery appearance. Keep in mind, less than half of those infected with Lyme will develop a bullseye rash.
Antibiotics are the main treatment for chronic Lyme disease. Typically, a broad-spectrum antibiotic such as doxycycline will be used for 3-4 weeks or longer depending on the individual’s symptoms. A broad-spectrum antibiotic is recommended to help with the co-infections associated with a tick bite. Typical co-infections include babesia, bartonella, ehrlichia, and rickettsia.
When bitten by a tick, it’s important that your immune system functions optimally. To avoid further inflammation be sure to follow a healthy, nutritious, low-sugar diet to support the immune system.
Foods to EAT:
- Leafy greens
- Animal based Omega-3 fats
- Fermented vegetables
Foods to AVOID:
- Refined sugar
You can also support your immune system by taking certain supplements. These include:
- Probiotics: 80% of your immunity is in your gut. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria in your gut that help maintain digestive health and boost your immune system.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s help the immune response by optimizing cell membrane complexes, regulating the inflammatory response, and helping with expression of genes that modulate the inflammatory response.
- Curcumin: This is an antioxidant which modulates the immune response.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D receptors are found on immune cells. You need Vitamin D to make your immune cells function properly.
When bitten by a tick, it must be properly removed. Steps for removal are:
- DO NOT yank the tick out. If you yank it out, the tick’s mouth could remain in the skin as can the bacteria which causes Lyme disease.
- Use pointy tweezers. Slide the tweezers between your skin and the tick’s mouth. Gently pull the tick straight up and away from your skin. It may take two or three tries.
- If you don’t have tweezers use your fingers, but take the same approach. Protect your fingers with a tissue or plastic bag and wash them afterwards.
- DO NOT squish the tick. Take the time to remove it carefully. If you squish the tick, bacteria can enter your body.
- DO NOT use a match or liquid to smother the tick. This can cause the tick to “throw up” unleashing its bacteria into your body.
- Wash your hands and the bite area thoroughly with soap and water.
- SAVE the tick. Ticks can be tested dead or alive. Place the tick in a plastic bag or container (with a wet tissue if it’s alive). Label it with the date of the bite and the location of where you think you picked up the tick. If you are bitten by a tick and would like it to be tested, the Bay Area Lyme Organization offers free testing.