Shut Up and Dig

The lowdown on Lyme disease

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Michele’s horrible experience with Lyme disease left me eager to read what garden writer Joel Lerner had to

say last week on the subject.  But really, do I HAVE to do everything that’s recommended?  Like:

  • Cover my skin completely when outdoors.  You’re kidding, right?
  • Wash my gardening clothes conscientiously.  Sure.
  • Stop every two or three hours outdoors to examine my entire body.  Maybe enlist passersby to help with the parts I can’t see? 
  • Get really clinical with your skin at the end of the day.  So for this, I’d presumably invite my new friends in for the inspection?

Lerner’s list of tick-infested habitats pretty much describes my property: birdbaths, bird feeders, leaf litter, woodpiles, woodland, tall grasses, and high weeds.  Except for the high weeds, I’ve got ’em all.  Darned discouraging.

Lerner includes the real deal about various sprays, like DEET and organic oils, and how exactly to use them and on what types of humans.  And spraying will indeed be my likely method of prevention.

Here’s the article.  Then here on Flickr are a few good clinical photos of rash-covered limbs and the toxic ticks themselves.  And here’s more about Lyme disease.

Photo credit.

Posted by on June 3, 2008 at 4:12 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.
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11 responses to “The lowdown on Lyme disease”

  1. Layanee says:

    I remember that photo of your winter gardening outfit. That should make you tick proof in all seasons.

  2. MaryContrary says:

    Yes it’s a serious disease, but I think people need to just chill about it. As long as you’re aware that you’re at risk and aware of the symptoms and seek treatment promptly, it isn’t a big deal in the vast majority of situations.

    The problems arise when people are oblivious to risk and symptoms. I have a neighbor who did that. They build a house in the woods and she develops all the classic lyme’s symptoms. I tell you “you have lyme’s” and she says “my doctor says I’m not at risk.” I say “is he insane?” In the next couple of days she develops bell’s palsy (another classic lyme’s symptom) and she and her doctor are finally convinced. Sheesh.

    I pull ticks off all the time and just keep a close eye out for the rash or any other symptoms. I’m not going to nuke my yard and I can’t nuke the greater outdoors, nor am I going to wear jeans tucked into socks covered with deet in a Maryland summer.

  3. Alan says:

    It depends on where you live. Your state’s dept. of health should have locale-specific information. The CDC also tracks this. Ticks are highly relevant in the northeast but notsomuch, for example, in the southwest USA.

    If you live in a “red zone” as I do, follow all those steps (as I do), and follow them every time you’re going to spend time gardening. I use bug spray, wear a hat, tuck my clothes in (including pants into socks). I strip and immediately wash my gardening clothes in my washing machine and immediately shower [thoroughly, scrubbing everywhere] and do a tick check. It’s particularly tricky for my family, as we all have dark hair!

    In addition, I distribute mouse poison packets in the woody area bordering my back yard, and I spray Permethrin on all the border areas–the transitiona areas between the woods and the cultivated areas.

    If I’m just running into the garden for a few minutes to cut a flower, turn off a hose, etc., I will make sure to used closed shoes, and to change shoes when I’m done.

    I also have lots of things to lure birds–particularly chickadees–to my property to fight the ticks. (I’ll have to review the bird-bath issue.

    I’ve pretty much given up the pleasure of walking barefoot outside or lying down in the grass (or playing in leaf piles). Sorta how some areas of the South are limited in their picnic choices because of those nasty ants.

    The most important control, however, is education. Learn about Lyme disease and deer ticks, and specifically about whether your county is a “red zone” or not.

    Since I’ve been doing these things (for a few years now), I’ve not had a single tick, even after spreading mulch, weeding, etc.

  4. I am a Connecticut gardener and I have raging Lyme. I have never been so sick in my life, complete with Bell’s palsy (paralysis of half the face, a side effect of Lyme) and the most intense hip and knee pain that codeine has trouble knocking down. I garden in the woods and in a lawn at meadow’s edge, with mulched beds …. In Connecticut, ground zero. And I always wear long protective clothing, follow all the guidelines, etc. Still got hit hard. The only thing I didn’t do was spray the property or lather myself with Deet every few hours. Yes, you really do need to do everything they recommend, including stay indoors in May, June & July.

    Lyme is so widespread in the northeast and the consequences are so severe, that you can’t be cavalier. I’d post a picture of my droopy paralyzed face for those of you who think the risk is no big deal, but it’s too demented looking for public viewing. Antibiotics will clear the infection, but doctor says paralysis won’t go away for about 4-6 weeks. Have to see if the knee and hip damage goes away.

    Please take all the steps and recommended precautions seriously.

  5. Ms. Krieger says:

    I second Connecticut Tree Lover’s comments heartily! Take precautions (long pants and socks when walking in the woods, careful examination of your skin for ticks when you come inside, seeing a doctor ASAP if you do find a deer tick on yourself!)

    My sister was infected with Lyme when we were children living in Connecticut in the 1980s, before it was treated effectively. She has had joint problems ever since and recently began having neurological troubles similar to those caused by long-term syphilis infection (a related type of bacteria, incidentally.) It appears that the Lyme bacteria was never eradicated from her body and she now has to go through a several-month long treatment with multiple heavy-hitter antibiotics (with nasty side effects.)

    Don’t let this happen to you! Take precautions. You don’t have to obsess and you don’t have to stay inside during the nicest part of the year, but please do cover up and examine yourself after coming inside!

  6. bev says:

    I have to concur that you need to take precautions, but not go crazy with fear. I have had innumerable tick bites on my woodland property in central Maryland. I have been able to minimize them with the pants tucked into socks (this is the single best preventative in my opinion), spraying Off on my clothes, and a daily (NOT every 2-3 hrs) full body tick check.
    The important thing is to find the ticks before they are able to engorge, which takes at least 24 hours and often more. Despite all my bites, I have never had Lyme disease because I find the little buggers pretty quick. Don’t forget to check your private areas, however; they love the vascularity and the moisture. Sorry to be gross but it’s true. Behind the knees is my second biggest site.

  7. Ann says:

    You are so lucky that you don’t haved high weeds. If you’d like to come visit, you could make that dream a reality for me, too.

  8. Barbara says:

    First tick on me last week (Hudson Highlands/NY State)- deer on property daily. About four inches up from my wrist on the inside of arm was a small red mark and a piece of moving dirt next to it. No, it looked like a small ant..damn, a tick? I got the tweezers, pulled straight up, and put both in a plastic bag to show my husband. Went to the Internet and so I know what to look for. I will now use anti-tick spray. :(

  9. Angie says:

    I live in central Maryland and I have had the bullseye and the massive dose of antibiotics to combact it and thankfully I am fine. I live in the woods, with grass, weeds, mulch and trees. The only thing that gets sprayed is me and my pets. It is senseless to put poision in the woods or in the yard as the ticks come out of the trees just as easily as they crawl across the ground. Also being that I have loads of wild critters there is no way to stop them from being in the yard. It is easy to drive yourself NUTS after having a tick on you and getting the bullseye, you become compulsive about spraying your repellent, stripping and dumping clothes in the washing machine, scrubbing in the shower and having someone check you over. The thing is, that is your best defense! I still wear shorts in the yard, I still garden May, June and July and I still spend qualitly time outside. If you have a tick embedded on you (and you don’t know how long it has been there), go to the Dr. with the tick in a plastic bag and get antibiotics. Not all ticks are deer ticks, not all deer ticks carry lyme. Don’t panic, be reasonable and safe!

  10. John says:

    My advice for gardening with ticks is a bit different than what the experts say. I wear as little clothing as possible, no socks, preferrably no shoes, no belt, nothing tight, everything as loose fitting as possible. Ticks seem to find me, crawl to some sort of parking space on my body (usually in the folds or flaps of clothing or shoes, or under the waistband of my shorts), then after I stop moving or when some magical period of time has passed they get busy with seeking out the spot on my body that they want to drink from. I usually feel them as they crawl up my arms and legs because those areas are bare and not constricted under clothing so my own body hair acts as a sensor.

    When ticks seem really bad I take a small scotch tape dispensor outside with me. When I see a tick on me or the dog I just “pick it up” with the sticky side of the tape and entomb it by folding the tape over on itself. The dog is now used to laying belly up and allowing me to pick things off of her with rolls of sticky tape on my fingers (she has short hair, so I can nab fleas and ticks this way).

    Rather than spray anything I sprinkle sulfur powder on my clothing if I plan on spending a lot of time in the woods. It goes on like baby powder and is harmless. You can even sprinkle in on your pets.

  11. greg draiss says:

    Cover my skin completely when outdoors. You’re kidding, right?
    Wash my gardening clothes conscientiously. Sure.
    Stop every two or three hours outdoors to examine my entire body.

    Yes this is what you are supposed to do. Are you now a doctor who knows more than a real doctor on Lyme Disease.
    Do you say the same thing about drinking? A post from you would go like this “Do not drink and drive? Sure. HOw do you expect me to get home?”

    And on smoking “Smoking Kills? Yeah right. What am I supposed to do quit”

    Cannot have it both ways sis. With your attitude towards experts in their filed you will probably contract Lyme by running off the road after trying to light a cig with both hands while driving home from happy hour with the other slugs who write this blog

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