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Lyme Disease in the Age of COVID-19

As much of the world has been focusing on the COVID pandemic, many of us are sitting at home for many more hours than we are used to.  We’ve been given this unique opportunity to go outside and visit nature regularly. It’s a good way to combat cabin fever, remain physically active and care for our emotional needs during these times of worry and uncertainty.  

Every day I witness the streets around my home being filled with neighbors I rarely see, families on walks together, kids on skateboards and scooters.  It’s a busy scene for a usually quiet town, and as I try and look for the positive things during these times, this is a beautiful one to witness: that we are all walking more, being with our families and breathing in fresh air.  

Given all the fear and uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, as an Integrative Physician with a focus on Lyme Disease in my medical practice, I felt compelled to share critical information so that you don’t get Lyme.  This information is useful, even if you’ve had Lyme before, or have it now, you don’t want to get it again! (And if you are struggling with chronic Lyme, I have some ideas for you, too)

Deer ticks are transmitters of various diseases in our area including Lyme, Babesia, Bartonella, Anaplasmosis, Relapsing Fever and Powassan virus.  This is not just a cause for concern in the spring and summer as conventional thinking goes. Their activity is dependent on the weather. With climate change afoot I see cases all year round.  Most people think ticks are killed off by freezing temperature but in fact, they just go through a stasis period. When the right conditions come about, they reanimate and come to life again.  

Here are some simple things to keep in mind as we approach high season for tick-borne illnesses:

  1. Temperatures: Deer ticks can be active in temperatures above 32-35 degrees when the ground is thawed and not covered in snow.  This is now. Don’t let your guard down just because you still need a down coat.
  2. Location: It’s common knowledge that ticks are found in the woods or specifically in shrubs, leaf litter, rock walls.  However I’ve had many patients get lyme disease from just being on sunny lawn. We are ground zero for Lyme disease, expect the rules to bend and that it’s easier to transmit traditionally thought.
  3. Family Pets: I’ve had patients who have been outside only on concrete and had Lyme disease.  We forget that our animals can bring ticks into the home. They should be checked regularly.  I believe that pets that get treated with medications like Frontline may tend to protect the animal but they make it more likely for a tick not to attach to them but to someone at home. 

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself Against Ticks 

  1. Tick Checks: If you are out in nature make sure you make it a routine to check yourself over.  Oftentimes we are good at checking our children but we forgo ourselves in the interests of time.  I’ve been guilty of that, too.
  2. Deer Fencing: This is incredibly helpful if you are able to have one on your property but it’s not foolproof as smaller animals can bring in ticks. The transmission rates can be reduced by 83-97%.
  3. Clothing: I avoid the use of more toxic insect repellants like permethrin BUT I do like the manufacturers that have bound the permethrin into the clothing fiber.  I do not believe this is absorbed into the body and it can last up to 70 washings and still remain effective. Socks are some of the easiest ways to bring protection into your daily life but other garments such as a hat (since ticks are hard to find on the scalp) are great ideas as well.  Of course you can dress yourself head to toe in clothing and tuck your pants into your socks but who wants to do this when it’s hot. I need my tank top and some vitamin D! 

You’ve Been Bitten by a Tick – What Should You Do? 

While knowledge and prevention can go a long way, ticks are tiny and omnipresent.  Here’s what to do if you find you’ve been bitten by a tick.  

  1. Having the right tools at home or travel when you need them is imperative.  There are many companies that make a tiny portable collection kit complete with tweezers, magnifying glass, picture identification guides and a specimen container. 
    If you are concerned about transmission you should keep the tick and bring it to your doctor for testing.  Most doctors, however, test only for Borrelia Burgdorferi (Lyme) but they don’t look for the other tick-borne infections.  I advise patients to use a company in Pennsylvania called Tick Checks where you send it in directly and have your tick checked for a multitude of pathogens with results in less than 48 hours.
  2. While there are no clinical studies that support the use of topical essential oils after a tick bite, I would still recommend the topical application of clove, cinnamon bark or oregano oil based on in-vitro studies of their activity against Borrelia infections.  It certainly can’t hurt.
  3. Once you get bitten there is no great test to detect early Lyme disease.  Traditional methods become accurate 4-6 weeks after the bite. There are controversial tests that can be done but it’s a gray area where you have to make decisions on treatment based on the clinical scenario. 
  4. After a delay of 3-30 days, be on the lookout for Erythema migrans (EM) rash (Bullseye rash) which can begin at the site of a tick bite, although many people do not have a rash at all. Over the next 4-6 weeks look for symptoms of fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes may occur in the absence of rash. See your doctor should you experience any of these symptoms. 

You Have Chronic Lyme – Concerns about COVID

Dr Yee has been treating chronic Lyme for two decades using an Integrative approach that is especially critical during the COVID pandemic as people with Lyme often have a compromised immune system.  Each person with Lyme needs a personalized approach that includes:

  1. Supporting the immune system 
  2. Assessing the best antibiotic regimen
  3. Integrating or replacing antibiotics with herbal protocols
  4. Protecting the gut during antibiotic treatment
  5. Other options for testing and treatment that your conventional lyme doc might not  know about.
  6. Checking aggressively for other tick infections that might have been missed.

If you have Lyme Disease and would like to see Dr Yee, she is now accepting new patients via Telemedicine.  CLICK HERE to set up a call and learn more about how Dr. Yee can help.  

Pamela Yee, MD is an Integrative Physician at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY where she creates highly personalized treatment plans for each of her patients. Dr. Yee has a special interest in integrative cancer care, immune disorders, and lyme disease. She lives in Nyack NY where she and her husband manage their own organic micro-farm.

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