The Time Bomb Tick I Never Saw

Learn how to diagnose, treat and, best of all, avoid Lyme disease.
By Barbara Pleasant
July 2, 2008
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Deer ticks, or black-legged ticks, are the only known carriers of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

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If knowledge is power, you would think I would never get Lyme disease after researching and writing The Lowdown on Lyme Disease four years ago. But in June 2006, while visiting an area where Lyme disease is common, I helped weed a perennial bed wearing shorts and flip-flops. Bad idea! I never saw the tiny tick that got me, but two weeks later I had hot, painful swelling on my side. At first I thought it was a super-chigger or spider bite, but it didn't itch. Eight days later, I was down for the count with chills, fever, body aches and a killer headache — all symptoms of Lyme disease. 

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid areas in which ticks are prevalent. Wear a hat and light-colored clothing (to help you see ticks before they find skin), and tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. When you can, cover as much skin as possible instead of dousing yourself with insect repellants. Be especially watchful if you live (or visit) where Lyme disease is common. The Northeast has the most cases, as reflected in these state-by-state statistics

How to Spot Lyme Disease

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that, if left untreated, affects the joints, heart and nervous system. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a round, inflamed reaction at the site of the bite. 

The deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks) that transmit Lyme disease are so small they could pass for poppy seeds. If you have found one of these ticks imbedded in your skin, watch the bite closely for swelling and redness. 

A bite from a Lyme-carrying tick is supposed to develop a bull's eye pattern of concentric rings that gradually increases in size, but mine was solid red, 2 inches across, hot to the touch, and painful rather than itchy. However, I found that holding a warm, moist washcloth over the inflamed bite revealed the hidden rings. 

What You Should Do (and When)

Get to a doctor when your symptoms are consistent with Lyme infection — flulike body aches and fever, and a seriously inflamed bug bite. A blood test may be ordered, but it may give negative results if you're just starting to get sick. Current clinical guidelines advise antibiotic therapy if symptoms appear within 30 days of a suspected tick bite. 

Follow up with probiotics. The big-gun antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease kill helpful bacteria, too, so up your intake of probiotic foods such as yogurt, kefir, miso and tempeh once you’re through with the treatment. I've been making my own yogurt and kefir, because the fresh stuff has the highest counts of beneficial bacteria. 

Antibiotics turned things around quickly, and I'm all better now, but my story would end differently had I not recognized the classic symptoms of Lyme disease. If it is not treated early, the Lyme disease bacteria can go on to cause arthritis, chronic fatigue, neurological deficiencies and generally mess up your life. But if you catch it in the first month, 14 days of antibiotics will usually kill the buggers.

Post a comment below.


silver birch
3/10/2009 8:43:50 AM
I can second Elizabeth's recommendation for tick tubes. Some garden centers carry them or you can order online ( I have used these in my yard for the last three years, and haven't noticed any ticks since I started placing them out there. My dog used to always get a couple of ticks in the summer (although I can't say if they were Lyme Disease carrying deer ticks or not) I figure better safe than sorry.

TERRI Buckner
7/18/2008 9:26:38 AM
I got Lyme's Disease for the first time this summer. The flu-like symptoms came on a week and a half prior to the distinctive rash. Reports like this always tell the symptoms, if left untreated, but beyond the flu-like symptoms and rash, they never indicate the symptoms while the disease is active. The antibiotics knock out the fever, headache, etc. pretty quickly. The CDC guidelines recommend against the testing (inaccurate). So how does anyone know if the disease is gone or if the antibiotics need to be extended?

Elizabeth Greene
7/14/2008 8:08:28 PM
There are 2 other effective ways to control lyme disease besides spraying. One way, which was tested on Long Island to be 90% effective, year after year, is to use tick tubes (Damminix manufactures them) which are little tubes filled with cotton which has been coated with permethrin. Mice, which spread the disease, take the cotton and build nests, and the permethrin repels or kills the ticks. The other way, is to leave corn or other feed out for deer which has been coated with ivermectin, which is a wormer. Go to the yahoo lyme group for other information and references and htmls

7/9/2008 1:13:04 PM
I'm from Northeastern PA and can't emphasize enough about checking your kids....I live in a suburban development which borders a country area with deer....Because my kids( 7 and 8) are in and out of the pool, they don't bathe as regularly as in the cooler months...So I didn't see... Anyway, I happened to notice a half-dollar sized bite on the top of the back of my son's thigh while he was changing out of his trunks on the back porch (8 years old)...I had no idea how long it had been the time I called the doctor a week later( i didn't want to look like an hysterical mother) and the blood test came back positive...who knows how long he had the bite! He was on antibiotics for 6 weeks!...Inform your kids to be vigilant...but it's good to check them once a week for places they can't see....My doctor said that you don't need any signs or symptoms to have it....scary! I can get my dog vaccinated against Lyme, but not my kids.... I guess what I want people to know is a.) kids don't often show syptoms or know that they have a bite so check them b.) you don't have to be in the woods to be bitten( I only live 9 miles from the city) and my kids were playing in the yard and a 10 foot wide tree break between my yard and the soccer field behind my property. c.) better to look like an overreactive parent, than not have your kids treated because of a suspected bite that may or may not look right

7/8/2008 4:33:44 PM
Thanks to man's interruption of the natural order of things during the past 200 years, Lyme disease, as well as other tick-borne diseases, has been allowed to proliferate to such an extent that it is becoming a problem everywhere. Now, pretty much wherever you have animals living outdoors, you will find ticks. And if you venture into areas where animals are prevalent, even if it is out your back door, you stand a likelihood of getting ticks on you because as far as ticks are concerned, you are just another potential meal. The best offense for prevention of exposure to any of these diseases is a good defense. Although, having said that, I have gotten Lyme disease four times now. However, despite over 40 years of wilderness activities, and over 20 years working as a land surveyor, it could've been worse. I hate to admit to or advise the use of chemical sprays to deter these pests, but they do work effectively. If you do use them, spray your clothes, not your skin and then wash the clothes as soon as possible to avoid spreading the chemicals around your house. Not using spray still invites the critters to get on you and once they do, they will crawl around you as quickly as possible to find the one spot where you are not as likely to find them, such as around your ears, between your toes, or on your back. Crazy as it sounds, ticks seem to know exactly where to hide to evade discovery, especially deer ticks. Beyond that, and no matter what your level of defense, chemical or natural, as soon as you return indoors from your outdoors activities, head immediately to your washing machine and put your clothes into it and wash them. Cold water is effective in removing and killing the ticks provided you add soap. Then, without delay, take a shower and use lots of soapy suds. As you wash, drag your nails across your scalp and skin to help you feel for any ticks that might have already become embedded in your skin. You'd be amazed how many ticks

7/8/2008 2:30:21 PM
Ticks climb up, usually to a point they can't get beyond and then seek flesh. It is better to wear light colored shorts than long pants. Anyone who has ever had a tick crawl on them know the awful 'tickle' the eight legged monster feels like when crawling on you. This past weekend while wearing shorts I felt two ticks crawling up my legs and was able to kill them before they bit me. My companion wearing long pants was lucky I spotted a tick on his collar. Never squeeze a tick to pull it out once it has burrowed in and glued (yes, glued) its mouth to the host. This causes the 'eye dropper' effect that squeezes the tick's fluids directly into the host, including any disease. They make special tick pliars that grab the insect at the skin, then pull straight out. Please check your animals carefully and treat any wound with rubbing alcohol after removal.

7/7/2008 10:29:22 PM
Folks should also be aware that not everyone displays the flu-like onset symptoms of lyme. I have had it three times and never had the initial symptoms. The onset of heart arrythmia is a second-stage indicator, and from there it can progress to the joints. To respond to the person who asked for options when you are in the deep woods, I have heard that one mega-dose of amoxycillin (1000 mg) taken when you first see a suspicious bite "may" be enough to knock back the bacteria before it spreads throughout the system. So you could carry some amoxy with you if you're going to be away from civilization in lyme country. However, as the article notes, the swelling does not always display the characteristic bullseye pattern!

7/7/2008 9:29:39 PM
Great article but I would like to see what your options would be in there were no hospitals or doctors around. Surely there must be something you can do in case you are in deep woods and no where near civilization. Not that I plan to be anytime soon but just wondering.

7/7/2008 9:24:37 PM

A Knesal
7/7/2008 10:52:57 AM
Good article. I would like to add and additional preventive measure that has been very effective for me. As suggested wear long pants (And long socks)and long sleeved shirts and a hat if traveling or working under underbrush. First I use a shoe lace at the cuffs of pants and a heavy rubber band at the shirt cuffs. Additionally I use soap at all the openings, 'Irish Spring' seems particularly effective. I rub a bar of soap around the ankles (On Socks), wrists and the neck, getting up into the hair line of your neck and under the collar. I have often been in situations where we would have to brush the Ticks off each others backs they were so thick. I have never had a Tick attempt to stay or attach itself to me. My fellow hikers or workers would have multiple ticks to deal with after an outing or work period. Try it, it works especially with 'Irish Spring' or a similar soap.

A Knesal
7/7/2008 10:48:04 AM
Good article. I would like to add and additional preventive measure that has been very effective for me. As suggested wear long pants and long sleeved shirts and a hat if traveling or working under underbrush. First I use a shoe lace at the cuffs of pants and a heavy rubber band at the shirt cuffs. Additionally I use soap at all the openings, 'Irish Spring' seems particularly effective. I rub a bar of soap around the ankles,wrists and the neck, getting up into the hair line of your neck and under the collar. I have often been in situations where we would have to brush the Ticks off each others backs they were so thick. I have never had a Tick attempt to stay or attach itself to me. My fellow hikers or workers would have multiple ticks to deal with after an outing or work period. Try it it works especially with 'Irish Spring' or a similar soap

7/6/2008 11:19:21 AM
There was a study a few years ago in neighboring Chester County, PA. Some 70-80% of ALL ticks carried Lyme's. It is through this whole region, and it is a danger from all types of ticks. Be careful out there!

7/6/2008 9:36:20 AM
Thanks for highlighting a growing problem. I recently went through an episode of Lyme disease and bull's eye rash. I never felt the tick and I check myself after working outdoors. I considered myself "lyme savy". I had symptoms, aches, fever, head aches, chills, shaking before the rash.(the rash is not always there) One thing you must realize is, that Lyme is the "Great Imitator". It's symptoms mimic many other illnesses and that tends to be why it's misdiagnosed. My Dr gave me a 10 day prescription. This was not enough. Blood tests (western blot) were negative. I finally found a Lyme Disease Literate Dr and his quote was this. When you get the Bulls Eye rash "you have Lyme disease". After completing a 30 day regimen of antibiotics, I'm pretty much symptom free. I will continue to do blood tests for the next 8 month at 8 week intervals. If you are interested in a more in depth study please go to

7/4/2008 8:20:47 PM
Very good article. I'm glad you're getting the treatment you need. I think the key here is to take your advice, and use the preventitive methods you described to avoid getting this disease in the first place. It's not a fun disease, especially since insurance companies may not even allow your doctor to diagnose you. Then things can get real bad suffering from long term, untreated Lyme. Thank you so much again for writing this article, and thank you to Mother Earth for running it!

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