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Lyme Disease – Symptoms, Prevention, and My Personal Experience

June 3, 2011 · 10 comments

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This article was posted on my blog when I first started writing.  However, with summer approaching, I thought I should re-post this information about Lyme Disease.

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.

My Personal Experience with Lyme Disease

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, my neck was a little stiff, 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.

Hallmark Bullseye rash caused by Lyme Disease 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 the antibiotic 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.

Ticks Don’t Just Live In the Woods

I often wonder where I picked this mean 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.

Advice For Preventing and Dealing With Lyme Disease:

  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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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Niki June 3, 2011 at 7:40 am

I just watched this documentary called Under Our Skin. It was about people getting Lyme Disease but they never knew what was wrong with them and doctors were telling them it couldn’t be Lyme Disease because they didn’t have it in their area. I guess 15-20 years ago this epidemic was spreading like wildfire and everyone was in denial. It was pretty depressing, actually.

I am glad you and your doctor were knowledgeable and you were treated right away.
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Moneycone June 3, 2011 at 8:05 am

Sorry to hear about your ordeal Kris. You know, Lyme disease is one of those terms I hear often but had no idea what it meant! Now I know!

(BTW, the Herxheimer reaction sounds horrible!)
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Nicole June 3, 2011 at 8:10 am

That’s scary! I’m glad you figured it out right away.

A professor we know got bitten by a tick before leaving for a scuba diving vacation in the Caribbean. He literally almost died before they flew him back to the states for emergency medical treatment– back home they recognized the symptoms and knew what to do.
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retirebyforty June 3, 2011 at 6:03 pm

eww.. YUK!!! :x
Thanks goodness we haven’t had to deal with tick, bed bugs, and other blood sucking things.
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Kris June 6, 2011 at 11:46 pm

RB40- Just be careful when traveling! Those little ticks can be lurking in places you didn’t expect.

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Kevin@InvestItWisely June 5, 2011 at 6:22 am

I didn’t know much about it until I read this article. Those little buggers! I’m lucky to live in an area where most of the insects are harmless though we do have our ticks too if you go into the woods. I’m glad to hear you got over this, Kris, it’s a good thing you found out about it early on!
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Kris June 6, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Kevin, you do have to be careful when traveling, especially on the east coast (US). Those little monsters like to crawl somewhere warm on the body, and it was quite hard to see him where he was attached to me.

Many people have gone undiagnosed because doctors that live in certain regions don’t know much about Lyme as they don’t see much of it. When I told my doctor that I had been on the East Coast and then showed him the bullseye, he knew immediately.

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First Gen American June 7, 2011 at 6:37 am

I’m so glad you didn’t get it. I hear it’s a horrible disease. My son got a horrible rash in DC last week, but I think it was from the hotel bed linens or pool. It’s starting to creep up into our area as well. Thank goodness for the bulleye. That’s a nice tell tale sign. Both my son and I are allergic to certain forms of bug bites so we get quarter sized welts on us when we get bit. I don’t think I could go to the doctor every time we swell up, but knowing the signs of something unusual is invaluable information.
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Kris June 9, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Well, I did get it, but it didn’t take over my nervous system, which was a blessing.

If you get a fever with those bug bites, it might be wise to go to a doctor. Getting those welts must be miserable.

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