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How I Defeated Lyme Disease With Early Detection

May 11, 2010 · 5 comments

in Health & Fitness

I wanted to share my experience with Lyme Disease in hopes that my story can either prevent you from getting the disease or at least help you recognize the symptoms if you are unfortunately infected.   I am warning you now, this is going to be a long post.  However, please read to the end as you may find the info useful one day.

Last summer, we were on vacation in Washington DC.  We did the usual tours of the museums, and we also visited the National Zoo and spent a lot of time in the grass at the Washington Monument and Reagan International Airport.  (We go to the airport to watch the planes take off practically right over your head and play some keep-away.)  After a few days in DC, we headed off to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

While taking a shower during our first day in North Carolina, I noticed what I thought was a mole on my side, just beneath my armpit and kind of around to the back.  I couldn’t remember having a mole in that spot before, but I also don’t really look there very often.  The ‘mole’ seemed odd and kinda falling off (sorry for the details).  So, I kinda pulled and it came off, and bled.  A lot.  However, upon further inspection, this mole was black, and had legs that moved.  I tossed it aside and didn’t think much about it.

On the way home from vacation, four days later, I just didn’t feel right.  I couldn’t really describe it, but my head hurt and I just felt kinda yucky.  However, I don’t always eat super healthy on vacation, and I was exhausted, so I just chalked it up to recovering from vacation.  I just rested the next day, but the symptoms stayed.  That night, I got a strange fever out of the blue and my head was pounding.  However, I didn’t have any respiratory symptoms, so I didn’t know what was going on.

Bullseye rash on my side after it started fading.

When I got up the next morning, I remembered that bug bite and wondered if my skin looked strange at the site of the bite.  I ran to the mirror, lifted my arm and saw the hallmark symptom of Lyme Disease – the bulls-eye rash.   (AKA Erythema Migrans.)  Since I read medical info all the time as a hobby, I knew exactly what this meant.  I called my doctor, who got me in immediately.  In just one glance, the doctor knew it was Lyme Disease, and treated me with a 3 week course of doxycycline.  (They can do blood tests for Lyme Disease.  However, results do not show positive until at least a month after infection.  Therefore, doctors tend to treat it right away even without a positive blood result.)

That night was horrible.  My fever spiked, I had chills like never before, my head was throbbing and  my neck hurt.  I really just wanted to cry.  What I learned after a little research is I was probably experiencing a Herxheimer Reaction, which is actually a good thing, even though I didn’t know it.  What happens in a Herxheimer Reaction is, those little bacteria called spirochetes that cause Lyme Disease are actually dying, and releasing toxins throughout your body during their demise.   It is a sign that the antibiotic you are on is doing a great job, even though the idea of these little dying spirochetes are coursing through your blood, casting off toxins as their final curtain call, is pretty creepy.

The Herxheimer reaction was probably the worst part of my illness.  After that point, I started gradually feeling better, although it was awhile until my energy was fully back.  Also, Doxcycline was very hard on my stomach, so those 3 weeks of treatment could not end soon enough.  However, it was a small price to pay for total recovery (at least as far as I know).  I would say that after a month or so, I was 100 percent again, which is absolutely wonderful considering what some people go through.

I owe my recovery to early detection.   I was so lucky in many ways.  For one, I saw the tick.  For another, the tick bite created a rash (you don’t always get the bulls-eye rash, but it does occur in 80  percent of cases.  However in my case it was in an area that I would not ordinarily notice, so I am so glad I found that tick and tied it all together.)  Also, I responded well to antibiotics and killed off the disease before it could infiltrate my nervous system, organs, or joints.

I often wonder where I picked this gross little deer tick up.  Since a tick has to be attached to you for at least 24-48 hours to transmit the bacteria, I figured I had to be in Washington DC when I got it.  (By the way DC has a very high prevalence of Lyme Disease.)  The ticks live on both deer and mice, so who knows.  They just walk around in grass/shrubs,etc and wait for their next meal (they only have 3 meals in their life).  They do not jump, but crawl around on you and until they find a nice warm place to attach.  Also, when they clamp onto you, they inject a little numbing agent so you don’t even feel them munching away.  So you can’t even rely on itching to make you realize you are under attack.

My advice to anyone reading this is the following:

  1. If you are in tall grass or woods, examine yourself after you get inside.   If you remove the tick early enough, it will not have time to infect you.  Also wash your clothes after being in an area where ticks may live.
  2. Examine your pets for ticks.  A tick can very easily walk off your dog and onto you.   Also, consider using a tick collar on your pet.
  3. Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts when in wooded areas.  Also, stick to the center of the trails, as brushing up against shrubbery can be just what that tick needs to find his way onto you.  Do not wear sandals when walking through the woods,  and always wear socks.  In other words, minimize the amount of skin exposure when outside.  Ideally, you would tuck your pants into your socks.   Sure, you won’t be a fashion plate, but just don’t pick a leisurely walk through the woods for your first date.  Save it for later on in the relationship when you don’t care as much about what impression you make!  🙂
  4. Use repellant containing DEET
  5. Check your children after they come inside if they were playing in any high risk areas.  Check particularly closely behind the ears, under the arms, around the waist, in the belly button, between the legs, behind the knees, back of the neck, and around the head and in the hair.
  6. If you do find a tick, remove it immediately with a pair of pointy tweezers by pulling the tick out straight, no twisting.  Immediately wash the affected area with soap/water and swab it with alcohol or witch hazel.   You should also drown the tick in a small jar of alcohol and keep it around for a couple of weeks just in case you do get sick.  The tick can help the doctor diagnose your illness as ticks can also transmit other diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
  7. If you are bitten and notice even the beginnings of a rash, get to the doctor immediately.  (Keep in mind, not all rashes will form a bulls-eye.)   Even if you did not ever notice a bug on you and have an odd rash, seek medical attention.  Especially if you have any headache, fatigue or fever.
  8. Be extra vigilant if you are living in or visiting regions of the country with a higher prevalence of Lyme Disease.  (Upper East Coast moving inland, upper midwest).  However Lyme Disease is also found along the west coast and also in Florida. Cases have been reported in almost every state, but some states have much higher rates of Lyme Disease than others.
  9. Realize you can get Lyme Disease even in the city.  Any time you are near a bush or grass, you can get infected.  (Like in my case.)

I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have gotten away so easy with Lyme Disease.  Fortunately I was somewhat educated in the disease before I was even bitten.  I hope that you never encounter an infected tick.  But if you do, hopefully some of the information provided above with help you with a quick diagnosis and a speedy recovery.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff May 11, 2010 at 11:26 am

Wow, I’m glad you caught it early!

I grew up on my grandparents’ wooded land in Texas with my mom. Ticks were a part of almost every summer. I’m feeling pretty lucky that I was able to avoid Lyme disease even though I have probably been bitten at least 25-50 times minimum.

For anybody who plays in the woods, this post names off the best places to check when you’re done…I’d also suggest to specifically check the back of the neck (under the hair)…that was their favorite place on me since my hair was long.

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Kris May 11, 2010 at 11:29 am

Thank you Budget! I added in the back of the neck to the post. Good catch! 🙂

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The Wealth Artisan May 11, 2010 at 11:40 am

Wow! We live in a pretty tropical climate with dense woods, so ticks are very common around here, but I had no clue about the bullseye mark. That’s really beneficial to know. Congratulations on being proactive and getting the sickness before it became too difficult to control.

It’s very interesting what you went through while on the antibiotics, it’s kind of creepy that they can do so much damage as they die off. I guess making you sick isn’t enough, they have to get one last chuckle in, the little buggers!

Thanks,
Timothy
Wealth Artisan Team Member
http://WealthArtisan.com

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Kris May 11, 2010 at 11:51 am

@Wealth Artisan – Thank you for reading, I know it was a looonng post. That bulls-eye rash is truly fascinating. I was so mad when I saw it because I just couldn’t believe that stupid bug was a lyme-carrying-tick. I literally have seen a tick twice in my life, so what were the odds?? But, as I said, I was so so so grateful to have that rash and understand what was wrong. The symptoms were so flu-like, but without any respiratory issues at all. We know a child that has been sick for a long time and doctors just diagnosed it as Lyme Disease, and they think she got infected 3 years ago. It can be very hard to get rid of all those symptoms once the bacteria gets into your nervous system and such. I am so lucky!!!!

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Money Reasons May 11, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Thanks for the great info!

Sorry to hear you got this, it sounds like it was very painful! Luckily, it didn’t get hold to do any damage!

when I was pre-teen, I use to go out to Delaware for the summer, and my uncle and I would walk in the woods. The dog we took and I, would always get ticks… Luckily my uncle check us both out throughly! My uncle was bald, so he never got any ticks.

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