Are you at higher risk of Lyme Disease from tick bites?
If you live in or around the many wooded areas of the northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest of the United States, you’ve probably heard the public warnings about ticks and Lyme disease. The summer months are when tick season kicks into high gear in these regions, and for those who love the great outdoors, it’s also a time to be vigilant by checking ourselves and our pets for ticks after exploring wooded areas.
The big risk of a tick bite is Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection spread by black-legged ticks, often referred to as “deer ticks”. Lyme Disease when left untreated can lead to serious complications, including arthritis, neurological disorders, cognitive complications, impaired memory, and even dramatic changes in mood.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection that is caused by the pathogen borrelia burgdorferi. It can also be caused by the more recently discovered borrelia mayonii bacteria. Black-legged ticks carry these bacteria and when a person is “bitten” the bacteria is introduced to the host and can attack virtually any system in the body, producing a variety of Lyme disease symptoms.
Early signs of Lyme Disease Include:
- Small, red bump that looks like a mosquito bite
- Often a red rash in the pattern of a bullseye will appear at the site of the bite. These rashes may be clear in the center and feel warm to the touch. They rarely itch or burn.
- Headache and body ache
- Feelings of exhaustion
- Swollen lymph nodes
Signs of progressed Lyme Disease
- Intense headache
- Join pain and swelling
- Facial palsy (a drooping on one or both sides of the face)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness/shortness of breath
- Nerve pain or numbness in the extremities
If you experience any of these symptoms see your doctor about getting tested for Lyme Disease right away. The earlier it is detected, the better the expected outcome.
Do diabetics have a greater risk of Lyme Disease?
As we’ve detailed, Lyme Disease is caused by tick bites. As someone living with diabetes, you are at no greater risk of getting Lyme disease than anyone else. Those who are at more risk are those who spend more time outdoors and in wooded areas or areas with tall grass. Hikers, mountain bikers, campers, park enthusiasts, forest workers, gardeners, landscapers – you get the idea.
Being diabetic has nothing to do with elevating your risk of getting a tick bite. But living with diabetes very well might impact how your body fights off Lyme Disease. Here’s why.
When a person is infected with a bacterium, the body has mediators that are called neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that fight off infection by ingesting and killing microorganisms, including bacteria. Neutrophils play a critical role in the body’s immune response to the borrelia burgdorferi pathogen that causes Lyme Disease.
Studies have shown that high blood sugar levels – hyperglycemia – can reduce neutrophil activity. If this is true, then the high blood sugar associated with diabetes, especially diabetes that is not being properly managed, might inhibit the body’s ability to fight off Lyme Disease, reducing the amount of borrelia burgdorferi bacteria cleared from the body and allowing more of it to spread throughout the body, leading to a higher risk of severe Lyme Disease symptoms.
Can I reduce the risk of getting Lyme Disease?
The answer is yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can reduce your risk of experiencing a tick bite with a little vigilance when spending time outdoors. Here are 7 quick tips:
- Stick to the trails on hikes
Because ticks are crawlers, it’s a good idea to stick to the groomed trails and try to walk in the center. Contact with higher grasses or bushes makes it easier for them to attach to your legs.
- Do a thorough body check once back indoors
You have about 24 hours to remove ticks before they transmit infection.
This is why it is so important to do a thorough body scan of yourself and kids soon after spending time outdoors – even if it’s in your own backyard! Be sure to check under the arms, in and around the ears, on the back of knees, around the belly button, on the head, in the hair, between the legs, and around the waist.
- Tick-check gear and pets after being outdoors
Be sure to check your pets for ticks, as well as any clothing or gear you went hiking with - rain gear, backpacks, etc. Also, make sure your pet is using a flea and tick topical medication or collar proven to repel these insects.
- Apply EPA-registered insect repellents
There are a lot of insect repellents on the market. The EPA has a handy search feature that’ll guide you in finding the right repellent for your needs. Check it out.
- Shower after being outdoors
It’s a very smart idea to shower within two hours after coming back indoors. A shower not only is an opportunity to wash off any unattached ticks, it’s also a great time to do that full body scan.
- Purchase treated outdoor clothing
There are socks, shorts, pants, and shirts with tick repellent already in the fabric. Check your local outdoor shop to see if they have what you need.
- Watch for and recognize the symptoms
Make it a point to look for the symptoms listed earlier in this post, particularly the bullseye rash. If you notice any signs, see your doctor right away.
How is Lyme Disease diagnosed and treated?
Blood tests are used to diagnose Lyme Disease and it is treated with antibiotics. If caught early, oral antibiotics are used. If the disease has progressed into the later stages, however, intravenous antibiotics may be required. Most cases of Lyme Disease are cured with a two to four-week cycle of medication. In some people, the symptoms of Lyme Disease can persist for more than six months after treatment, a condition called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). There’s no proven treatment for it, however, those with PTLDS usually get better over time.
Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check
Even by following all the CDC recommendations, there’s no way to eliminate the risk of Lyme Disease entirely, especially if you’re someone who likes spending time outdoors. But by keeping your blood sugar in check, you are giving your body the best opportunity to fight off the disease.
– Stick to your daily blood sugar testing schedule.
– Follow your doctor-prescribed medication program, including insulin treatments by insulin syringe, insulin pen or a prescribed insulin pump.
– Eat a diabetes-healthy diet and get in an appropriate amount of physical activity to help keep both weight and blood sugar under control.