Tag Archives: lyme prevention

Fear of Lyme Reinfection

by Jennifer Crystal

Hoping you don’t get another tick bite and Lyme reinfection this spring.


This time of year always makes me happy: the tulips come out, everything blooms, and the world feels hopeful again. It also makes me nervous, because I know spring brings an influx of my worst enemy: ticks. Articles and newscasts from The Boston Globe to CBS warn that a warmer winter will make tick season especially bad this year.

“But isn’t the horse already out of the barn,?” a friend asked me when I voiced my concern. She meant that since I already have Lyme and babesia, what would be the harm in getting a new tick bite? A lot, it turns out.

Getting a new tick bite ranks up there with relapse in terms of my worst fears. My Lyme and babesia are currently in remission, well-controlled and well-maintained by specific medication, supplements, dietary restrictions, and lifestyle limitations. A new infection could spur a relapse, and engender new symptoms that I did not experience with my initial infection.  It could also re-infect me with ehrlichia, a co-infection I previously beat, or give me several new co-infections. One bite could send me back to square one.

I know the danger of this because I watched a friend go through it last summer. Like me, she had been in remission, and was out living her life: raising her children, taking spin classes, working and socializing. Then one day she sat on a blanket under a tree at her child’s lacrosse game, and a few days later, woke up sicker than ever. A tick had bitten her while she sat watching that game, reinfecting her not only with Lyme but with co-infections she’d never had before. She ended up in the hospital.

Besides the physical toll these new infections took on her body—she went from attending spin classes to grimacing in pain when a physical therapist tried to stretch her legs in her hospital bed—the illnesses also took an emotional toll. The isolation and pain of tick- borne illness can cause depression and anxiety, but those feelings are much worse when you’ve survived the illness before, tasted freedom and suddenly had it stripped from you again. My friend felt hopeless.

Who can blame her? Remembering the devastation of my relapse, I can only imagine how distraught I’d feel if I were to get a new bite, especially since there are so many new tick-borne illnesses on the rise. A recent story on CNN warns of a rise in tick-borne Powassan virus, a potentially deadly encephalitis. Symptoms can include fever, headache, difficulty maintaining consciousness, cognitive impairments and seizures. A recent NPR report speaks to a rise in newer tick-borne illnesses, such as anaplasmosis and Heartland virus. Other prevalent tick-borne illnesses include Bartonella, Borrelia miyamotoi, Bourbon virus, Colorado tick fever, mycoplasma, relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI), tick paralysis, and tularemia.

Fear of a new bite can make a Lymie want to hide. Short of that, here are some tips for preventing Lyme disease while enjoying the great outdoors. These are important for everyone to follow, whether you’ve already had a tick-borne illness or not:

  • Use insect repellent that contains DEET, or the more natural components of picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, and treat clothing and outdoor gear with permethrin.
  • Carry repellent with you at all times. You never know when you’re going to be at a friend’s house and they’ll suggest going for a walk or taking their kids out to play.
  • Wear light-colored, long-sleeved clothing. Tuck pants into socks, no matter how geeky that sounds. Wear close-toed shoes.
  • Stay away from grassy areas, wooded areas, brush and leaves. Stick to the center of gravel and dirt paths. One patient said she’s so afraid of leaf piles on the sidewalk that she walks in the street. I do this, too! (Just make sure it’s safe!)
  • Do a tick check immediately after spending time outdoors, remember to look in tick hiding spots such as the groin, the belly button, behind the ears, and on top of the head. Do a check every night before bed.
  • Remember to check your pets, too! One man in West Hartford, CT recently pulled 30 ticks off his dog after a walk around the reservoir. Dogs tend to run into the woods and roll in the grass, and then they bring whatever they pick up into your home.
  • Shower immediately after spending time outdoors. If you have small children, be sure to bathe them and check them for ticks every single night. Kids are at greater risk of getting tick bites and associated illnesses because they are closer to the ground and spend more time playing outside than adults.
  • Put clothes in the dryer as soon as you come inside for 10-15 minutes. High heat kills ticks.
  • Carry a mini lint brush with you, and periodically swipe it over your body and clothes. Remember that ticks are sometimes hard to see so they may get picked up and be noticeable on sticky lint paper.

Most important, we can’t let ourselves be blocked by fear, because then the ticks have won. Spending time outdoors will always make me nervous, but I believe that using these preventive measures will keep me safe. I wish everyone an enjoyable and tick-free season!

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.

Jennifer Crystal is a writer and educator in Boston. She is working on a memoir about her journey with chronic tick-borne illness. Contact her at [email protected]

Lyme Disease Prevention Needs Co-Operation, Not Isolation

by Hannah Staab and Mayla Hsu, Ph.D., GLA Science Officer

With the election of a new President in the United States, the heated rhetoric about reinforcing America’s southern border has ignored the critical need for international dialogue and mutual cooperation to control the spread of infectious diseases. Infectious pathogens do not respect national borders. As we have learned from Zika virus, both humans and animals can facilitate disease spread between countries, making the border areas between countries an important place for disease control. The U.S.-Mexico border zone can be considered a hotspot for diseases acquired from animals, such as Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, whose spread may be promoted by factors including climate change, poverty, and migration.

A study conducted jointly by Mexican and American scientists found that Ixodes scapularis, the tick responsible for spreading Lyme disease, is present in the border area, and 45% of these ticks were infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme. In Mexico, a survey of blood samples revealed that 6.4% of people living near the Texas border had antibodies for Lyme bacteria, while other regions in Mexico reported only 1.1% seropositivity. This region has a higher rate of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses than anywhere else in Mexico, and reasons for this could include the high traffic of host animals, such as cattle and white-tailed deer that move through the area. Tick-borne diseases may also become more prevalent in this area due to climate change. Variables including rainfall, invasive vegetation and increasing temperature are shifting the habitat range of disease vectors like ticks as well as their mammalian hosts, and it’s speculated that Lyme disease incidence will increase in this border area. Poverty, which worsens difficulties in obtaining timely health care information and treatment, is not solely a Mexican problem: 15.9% of Texans live below the poverty level.

However, preventing the spread of disease to humans is not the only focus of tick control in this region. Rhipicephalus microplus is a species of tick usually found in sub-tropical regions, that often transmits Babesia bovis, a parasite that causes cattle fever. This infection causes potentially fatal anemia and wasting in cattle, and leads to devastating economic losses. The parasite is related to a similar tick-borne parasite, Babesia microti, that infects and sickens humans.

In the early 1900’s, the United States established the National Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program, which eliminated virtually all cattle fever ticks. Still, these ticks remain abundant in Mexico, and to prevent their movement over the border, the United States Department of Agriculture created a Tick Eradication Quarantine Area (TEQA). Within the TEQA, stray, illegal and US-bound animals are inspected. In order to export cattle out of the quarantine area, they must be treated with acaricides, which are chemicals that kill ticks. Although this method has been very effective in keeping cattle fever out of Texas, the excessive use of acaricide has caused the ticks to adapt and become resistant.

A study by Busch et al. (2014) took tick samples from various locations in Texas and tested their resistance to multiple acaricides. These tests revealed that 15 out of 47 of the collections contained ticks that were resistant to acaricides. Eleven of 15 acaricide-resistant populations were collected outside of the TEQA, indicating the ticks were not contained. The authors concluded that despite the extensive actions to inhibit the spread of ticks into Texas, there were two dispersal mechanisms that led to these tick infestations. The first was frequent short-distance dispersal of acaricide-resistant ticks despite the precautions taken at the border. The second mechanism was the less frequent, long-distance dispersal from the TEQA, possibly mediated by humans, or carried on other host animals such as white-tailed deer.

Acaricide resistance is a major threat to the mechanisms that are currently in place to control tick populations. A study by Stone et al. (2014) examined the genetic mutations in ticks that are associated with acaricide resistance. They identified three single nucleotide polymorphisms that led to resistance in the sample population. Many communities on the Texas-Mexico border are concerned that their cattle will become infected with cattle fever, and without acaricides there are few weapons to battle the ticks. Studies like this will provide the knowledge necessary to enhance our tick control programs and prepare for future problems.

Protection of human and agricultural animal health will need research and testing on both sides of the border, as well as information sharing and collaborative implementation of vector control. In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary for the U.S. and Mexico to work together to stop the spread of tick-borne diseases.

If there’s a Lyme vaccine for dogs, why not for people?

Dr. Harriet Kotsoris, chief scientific officer with Global Lyme Alliance, answers this question and many more as a guest on “Steve Dale’s Other World,” a WGNPlus podcast, part of the StopLyme Campaign.


Steve Dale, a well-known Certified Animal Behavior Consultant and author, understands the effects of Lyme disease on our pets. But he wants to know, “What about the person at the other end of the leash?”  And, if Lyme is considered an epidemic among veterinary parasitologists, what does the human medical community say?  

In this podcast, Dr. Kotsoris shares with Steve what we know about Lyme disease, including diagnosis and prevention. According to Dr. Kotsoris, we must approach tick-borne diseases in three key areas–prevention, better diagnostics, and more effective treatment. One of the biggest gaps in the fight against this epidemic is the lack of an accurate diagnostic test. Without an accurate test, thousands of people are not diagnosed and receive no treatment.

No accurate test combined with the rapid spread of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses, makes prevention a must, for both people and their pets. Lyme disease is now in all 50 states, not to mention more than 80 countries. The number of reported Lyme cases has now reached 329,000 in the U.S alone.

Increased prevention alone will not halt Lyme, and will not help those already infected. To develop effective treatments, including a vaccine for people, the need for research is greater than ever before. Unfortunately, despite the increased need, federal funds are limited. Global Lyme Alliance has gained national prominence for funding the most urgent and promising research in the field, focused on the development of an accurate and accessible diagnostic test, treatments for long-term Lyme, and a cure.

Listen to the entire podcast, and why Dr. Kotsoris believes more has been done to prevent Lyme in our pets than in people.


Steve Dale initiated the StopLyme campaign in May 2016. StopLyme is a public awareness campaign that includes the support of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Global Lyme Alliance.