May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

By Stephanie Sharp

Most Floridians are well-acquainted with the risk of mosquito-transmitted diseases and are diligent in preventing mosquito bites. But with Lyme disease on the rise in Florida, it's important to take tick-bite prevention as seriously as we take mosquito-bite prevention or other outdoor precautions.

Lyme disease has not typically been associated with Florida, but the rate of Lyme disease in the state has tripled from five years ago. Florida is among other states, such as California, seeing a marked increase in the zootonic disease.

The good news is that there are many ways to naturally repel and combat ticks, using many natural wellness tools you might be familiar with.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness, transmitted by the nymphal (or immature) deer tick. Nymphal deer ticks are about the size of a poppy seed and their bites are not painful, so it's important to prevent a tick bite before they happen or to be swift in your identification and treatment of tick bites.

Lyme Disease Awareness Month is an opportunity for those living with Lyme disease and their loved ones to educate the public and physicians, raise funds for research and advocate for proclamations from local and state governments.

With the Center for Disease Control reporting at least 300,000 diagnoses of Lyme disease each year, the need for public education about the disease is mounting. For comparison, Lyme diagnoses account for more than 1.5 times the rate of diagnoses of breast cancer and six times the rate of diagnoses of HIV/AIDs.

This tick-borne illness affects all ages, but children, senior adults and those with occupations that require significant time spent outdoors (such as firefighters or park rangers) are at especially high-risk for contracting Lyme through tick bites.

Symptoms can range from the early onset of flu-like symptoms and a distinctive "bull's eye" skin rash, to chronic Lyme disease symptoms that affect neurological function, joint pain, debilitating fatigue, memory loss and cardiovascular malfunction. In a 2014 study, researchers found that chronic Lyme patients reported significantly lower health-related quality of life indicators than research participants with other chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure and fibromyalgia.

How does the disease work?

Lyme is often considered dangerous because it is difficult to diagnose. A nymphal tick can transmit a corkscrew-shaped bacterium, known as spirochete, through a bite. This bacteria, borrelia burgdorferi, is often called the "Great Imitator," because the disease it causes presents symptoms that are strikingly similar to many other conditions.

Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed by physicians as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis and clinical depression. When untreated or under-treated, chronic Lyme disease affects any organ and presents numerous risks to major body systems. As a zootonic (or animal-to-human transmitted) illness, Lyme disease is also often contracted with numerous co-infections that bring other health risks. The five most common co-infections are babesia, bartonella, ehrlichia, mycoplasm and Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever.

Treatment for Lyme disease is a source of controversy and debate in the medical field. One school of thought champions a short course of antibiotics to treat Lyme, recommended by the Infectious Disease Society of America. Another approach is preferred by the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, which focuses on an individualized treatment that's designed in collaboration between healthcare provider and patient, based on the severity of the individual's symptoms and any co-infections present.

Tick Awareness

According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the nymphal deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks) that are associated with the transmission of Lyme disease and most prevalent from April to August.

There are many ways you can help control ticks in your home or yard, including practicing responsible tick prevention with your pets (especially dogs) and even landscaping to discourage tick mitigation into your outdoor living spaces.

But if you are like many of us, you have many outdoor adventures planned for your summer. We've rounded up some easy ways to help prevent tick bites and keep yourself and your family safe with natural alternatives to chemical repellents.

Tick Tips

When hiking or exploring wooded or grassy areas, stay on marked trails and boardwalks. Not only is it good for the environment, but it's also an easy way to lessen your contact with tick habitats.

Use essential oils or all-natural bug repellants that are specifically for ticks. Be sure to follow all instructions and apply appropriate safety measures with children and infants.

Treat your clothing and outdoor gear with a properly-diluted essential oil spray. Using a small amount of rubbing alcohol can help disperse the oils into water.

Keep these essential oils handy during "tick season": Rosemary, lemongrass, peppermint, red thyme, cedarwood.

When you get home from your outdoor adventures: Remove outdoor clothing and gear and immediately put in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes or wash immediately in hot (not warm or cold) water.

Check yourself, pets, children and gear for ticks before entering your home. Bathe in hot water, preferably within two hours of being outdoors. A peppermint or eucalyptus soap would be particularly effective in removing any nymphal ticks before they have a chance to transmit disease.

Do a full tick-check in the mirror to ensure you're tick-free. Remember-- nymphal ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, so it's important to be thorough.

Under the arms

In and around the hair

In and around the ears

Back of the knees

Between the legs

Around the waist

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