Engineers Are Among Those Vulnerable to Bite of a Bloodsucking Parasitic Arachnid
Unless you work full-time at a downtown studio and never venture outside, you are at risk for contracting Lyme disease. If you work at a transmitter site that is in a vegetated area anywhere in the United States, or much of the world for that matter, you may be at high risk for this potentially devastating disease.
Lyme is a bacterial infection spread primarily through the bite of a tick. The ticks most likely to carry Lyme are the deer tick in the East, the Lone Star tick in the eastern half of the U.S., and Pacific Black-legged tick. All are very small ticks, typically the size of a poppy seed, and can be difficult to detect.
Much of what you may know about Lyme disease is almost certainly wrong. Here are a few myths, and the facts.
Myth #1: Lyme disease is rare. Fact: Lyme disease is the most — often — reported vector-borne disease in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control receives about 17,000 reports of new cases each year, from every state. But, the CDC admits, the actual number probably is at least 10 times this. Some areas of the country such as the Northeast and Upper Midwest have much higher rates than others.
First-Person ExperienceAuthor Doug Fearn is a former radio engineer who began his career at WPEN(AM) in Philadelphia in 1966 and later was CE and operations manager at WKSZ(FM), Media/Philadelphia. In between, he owned a professional music recording studio. For 10 years, he has operated D.W. Fearn, a manufacturer of professional audio equipment for the recording industry.
He was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 1993 but can trace his symptoms back to the mid-1970s. He speculates that he may have first been infected while making AM field strength measurements in southeastern Pennsylvania. A more recent infection was acquired in 1999 while installing an Amateur Radio Beverage antenna at his home. This tick bite transmitted Ehrlichiosis and Bartonella at the same time as Lyme disease. He has maintained reasonably good health with aggressive and relentless treatment. Through this experience, he says, he has learned more about Lyme disease than he ever really wanted to know.
A 24-page booklet he wrote for a local Lyme disease patients’ group has become his “greatest hit,” with 50,000 copies distributed nationwide. It is used by many doctors to educate patients.
His book for Lyme patients, “The Lyme Disease Handbook,” will be published later this year.
Myth #2: It’s difficult to catch. Fact: In many areas, virtually all the ticks carry the disease. Various animal studies concluded that it took 24, 48 or even 72 hours of tick attachment before you become infected. The experience of many doctors and patients shows that infection can occur much more quickly than that.
Myth #3: Lyme disease is cured easily with a few days of antibiotics. Fact: A case caught immediately after infection might be cured with four weeks of antibiotics. Lyme bacteria spread through the body very quickly; it’s detectible in spinal fluid within hours after a tick bite. Once disseminated, it can take eight weeks of treatment or more to eradicate the bacteria. Once it becomes a persistent infection, months or years of treatment may be necessary, with no guarantee of a cure.
Myth #4: Lyme disease always produces a bull’s eye rash. Fact: The characteristic rash is a definite sign of Lyme infection, but fewer than half of the patients with confirmed Lyme disease had the rash.
Myth #5: A simple blood test can confirm or rule out infection. Fact: The common tests miss over half of the patients actually infected. The CDC says that tests should only be used to support the diagnosis of Lyme disease and tests should not be relied upon. Diagnosis is based on signs (e.g., the bull’s eye rash), symptoms reported by the patient (see list at the end) and a history of exposure to ticks.
Myth #6: A vaccine can protect you. Fact: A vaccine of questionable efficacy was available for a couple of years, but it has been withdrawn. Many adverse effects were reported.
Myth #7: Once you’ve had Lyme, you’re immune. Fact: You do not develop immunity. Every new tick bite can re-infect you. In addition to Lyme, many ticks also transmit additional infections at the same time, such as Babesosis (a blood parasite), Bartonella, Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
The effects of untreated or undertreated Lyme disease can be devastating, resulting in unrelenting fatigue, serious joint and/or muscle pain, neurological or memory problems, heart rhythm abnormalities, vision or hearing problems and psychological problems. No two cases are alike. Lyme can affect any part of the body, and co — infection with additional tick — borne diseases complicates diagnosis and treatment. Although rarely fatal, deaths do occur occasionally.
Lyme disease often is misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ALS, Lupus or mental disorder. Misdiagnosis often results in more serious disease because of the absence of appropriate treatment.
Because Lyme disease is surrounded by controversy — mainly as a result of disagreement among academic researchers and the doctors who actually treat Lyme patients — it can be difficult to find a doctor with knowledge and experience to help cure you. The non-profit Lyme Disease Association has a physician referral service. Call 888-366-6611 or visit www.lymediseaseassociation.org.
Ticks most commonly are found around the edges of fields, at the juncture with woods or underbrush. That describes many transmitter sites. Other areas to avoid include rock piles, stone walls, and debris piles.
Insect repellents containing DEET (e.g., Off) offer some protection against ticks. Permethrin spray may be better. It is applied to clothing and allowed to dry. It kills ticks and mosquitoes and remains effective for a couple of weeks.
You might keep a set of treated clothes at the transmitter site to wear when you are in tick areas. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing; but in most parts of the country prime infection season is May through July. So clip this article and save it as a reminder for next spring.
Inspect yourself for ticks while in the field and especially when you come back inside. If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it carefully with fine-pointed tweezers. Do not use heat, petroleum jelly or any other substance to remove the tick; doing so may increase your risk for infection.
After removal, apply alcohol or disinfectant to the bite. Keep the tick in a plastic bag or vial, and mark the date. Call your doctor for advice. Experienced doctors in Lyme-endemic areas probably will recommend a couple of weeks of antibiotics as a precaution.
If any type of rash develops, and especially if you experience that “coming down with something” feeling, get to your doctor as quickly as possible. Prompt treatment provides the best chance for a quick cure.
Most common symptoms are a circular rash (“bull’s eye”), fatigue, headache, light sensitivity, joint pain or swelling, facial paralysis, burning, tingling or stabbing pains, numbness, confusion (“brain fog”), panic attack, stiff neck or ringing in the ears.
Symptoms may come and go, sometimes very quickly. A case of “flu” in the summer months is suspect, especially if there is no nasal congestion.
These symptoms are not unique to Lyme disease, but a doctor familiar with the disease will be able to separate Lyme from other diseases or conditions.
Lyme disease has ruined lives. Please be careful.
A free booklet on this topic, written by the author, is available. E-mail to [email protected] for a copy.