Lyme continues to infect Vermonters
By Emma Lamberton
Correspondent | July 11,2014
You may not know as much about Lyme disease as you think.
In 2013, more than 600 confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported to the Vermont Department of Health. With health officials predicting the continuing rise of Lyme disease, it is important to be proactive in prevention for adults, children and pets.
Terry Burk of Castleton was diagnosed with Lyme disease two summers ago.
“I’d heard about it, but I thought you had to go hiking,” Burke said. “I didn’t know they were in my garden.”
Forests, brush areas and tall grass are typically thought of as prime tick habitats, but Susan Maravalli, a nurse at Pediatrics Associates in Rutland, knows ticks live closer to homes than people realize.
“They are everywhere. They can be in your lawns and backyards as well.” Aside from mid-winter months, Maravalli says Pediatrics Associates sees a constant stream of Lyme diagnoses in children, some caused by simply playing in the yard.
The Vermont Health Department recommends insect repellent with up to 30 percent DEET, and that clothes be treated with permethrin before venturing outdoors.
“Cover up on hikes,” Maravalli said. Long-sleeved shirts are recommended, and pulling high socks over pant legs will help keep ticks away from skin.
This strategy does not work for pets, but Dr. Robert Macpherson, owner of Rutland Veterinary Clinic and Surgical Center, has another solution.
“The No. 1 recommendation is tick medication, year-round,” Macpherson said. “There are tick collars and aural medication available.” He stressed year-round medication because adult ticks are hearty enough to overwinter and come out on warm winter days.
Even with the most thorough prevention, it is still possible for ticks to get on your body. But if a tick imbeds, it takes approximately 36 hours for the transmission of Lyme.
“Constantly be checking,” Maravalli warned. “Especially your children. Ticks can imbed in the scalp — look through their hair.”
Ticks are the size of a poppy seed and easy to miss. Showering after being outdoors has proven effective in washing ticks off the body.
Also be on the lookout for bite marks.
“I thought I had a mosquito bite,” Burke said, “It was just a little red spot. But three days later, I was sicker than I ever remember being.”
Not everyone who develops Lyme gets the bulls-eye rash associated with it. In fact, Maravalli said: rashes far from the bit mark may appear on your body as a result of Lyme. Other symptoms of Lyme include joint pain and stiffness, headaches, fevers and fatigue.
For dogs, be on the lookout for lame movement, indicating swollen joints, loss of appetite, and high fevers. While cats can contract lesser forms of Lyme, “it is not as severe (for cats) as dogs,” said Macpherson. Dogs left untreated can eventually experience kidney failure.
If symptoms go away after a few days, don’t be fooled. “I thought I had gotten over it and was fine,” Burke said, “But when I got out of bed, I noticed the red ring indicative of Lyme.”
Lyme is a spirochete, a corkscrew bacteria that infects the bloodstream. After about three days, it corkscrews its way into other cells, and emerges cloaked in the cell’s membrane.
“It’s a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Burke said. Because of its ability to cloak, your body stops fighting and Lyme can damage any part of the body. Just because symptoms stop does not mean Lyme is gone.
Typical Lyme treatment involves about a month of antibiotics. While short-term treatment is effective for some, it is not for others, and long-term treatment is needed. Even after completing short-term antibiotics, it is wise to be tested for Lyme again to see if treatment was effective. When being tested initially or after short-term treatment, be aware that Lyme blood tests often produce false negatives.
Previously, long-term treatment was not legal for Vermont doctors to prescribe, forcing Vermont patients to look out of state for care. However, with Act No. 134 (H. 123) signed into law this past May, Vermont doctors can now prescribe needed care. The bill had strong support from Vermont health-care practitioners.
More information on Lyme disease can be found at the Vermont Department of Health’s website.