If your doctor says, “Lyme disease,” here’s your first question: “Are you an LLMD?”
In the HSI Healthier Talk community forums, an HSI member named Avatar explains: “Having been a victim of Lyme Disease after being misdiagnosed with possible fibromyalgia plus possible MS amongst many other things, I was fortunate enough to find a good LLMD (Lyme Literate Medical Doctor) who treated me very well and I now have a good 85 – 90% of my life back.”
For those, like Avatar, who become infected with the B. burgdorferi bacterium that causes Lyme disease, one of the first stops should be the web site for the Lyme Disease Association (lymediseaseassociation.org), which offers free referrals to LLMDs.
For the rest of us it’s important to know that the chance of picking up a tick that carries B. burgdorferi is higher right now than any other time of the year. Deer ticks are more likely to transmit the bacterium during their lymphal stage of development, which occurs in late spring and early summer.
But if you’re hiking in Colorado, your risk is much different than if you’re pulling weeds in New Jersey.
A pound of prevention
According to a map in the Lyme disease Hazard Information Bulletin published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), folks in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana have very little chance of getting Lyme disease. At slightly greater risk are those on the west coast (where the disease is spread primarily by the western black-legged tick) and in the southeast, especially along the gulf coast. States where risk is highest include Wisconsin, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and all of New England.
Anyone who lives in a high-risk state and spends a lot of time outdoors is at higher risk, of course. And the OSHA bulletin lists these jobs that carry particular risk: construction work, landscaping, forestry, brush clearing, land surveying, farming, railroad work, oil field work, utility line work and park/wildlife management.
So if you frequently spend time outside, say, clearing brush in Texas, remember to wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck your trousers into your socks. Not a very stylish look, but a safe one. And there are several oils you can use to help repel ticks, including lavender, citronella, cedar, rose geranium, American pennyroyal, eucalyptus and tea tree oil. Commercial insect repellants that are billed as “natural” typically contain one or more of these oils.
After an extended stint outdoors, always check your body for ticks. This is a bit difficult because ticks in the lymphal stage are only as big as the head of a pin, and while they may attach anywhere on the body, they prefer hidden areas with hair, such as the armpits, groin, and scalp.
The bacterium that causes Lyme attacks the body in a formidable spirochete form – a spiral shape that aggressively embeds in muscles, tendons and even the heart and brain. It’s also pleomorphic, meaning it can change shape, making it hard for the immune system to detect it.
This dastardly creature prompts symptoms – such as fever and lack of energy – that are often mistaken for the flu. Other symptoms include unusual joint and muscle pain, stiff neck, confusion, severe headaches and heart palpitations.
Antibiotics provide the standard treatment for Lyme disease. And as always when antibiotics are used, acidophilus and other probiotics are helpful in keeping the beneficial gut flora in the intestines alive. Also, because the immune system is seriously stressed by Lyme, nutrients that enhance immune system function are very important. And sugar intake should be avoided for two reasons: 1) sugar impairs the immune system, and 2) Lyme disease spirochetes thrive on sugar.
A controversial natural treatment for Lyme disease calls for injections of bee venom. Some anecdotal evidence indicates this regimen may be effective, but physicians who deviate from the established protocols for Lyme care may put themselves at risk for investigation by state licensing agencies.
In any case, if Lyme disease symptoms appear, immediate medical care is needed. Some Lyme patients may fight their infection for months or even years if the bacterium isn’t addressed in the early stages.