Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Tiny Problem for Gardeneers

My apologies.  I deliberately chose a deceptive title for this  column. There’s no question but a tick, today’s subject,  is tiny, but if he manages to bite you, the result can be ENORMOUS – Lyme disease.

I  thought the frigid  snow-filled winter would reduce the tick population, but it’s had the opposite affect.  The number of ticks here in New England has exploded!   In past years  taking a walk in the woods was when we worried about getting a tick, but this year these wretched insects are absolutely everywhere.  

 Gardeners, BEWARE!  When you head out to do a little weeding, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants tucked into your socks (white socks and shirt will help you spot crawling ticks) and wear a hat. Spray an insect repellent such as Off around your ankles, and don’t assume that taking a hot shower after working outside is a solution. It’s not! 

                      An easy way to protect your dog from ticks!

 I’ve encountered many ticks over the years and been bitten five or six times.  Most bites are eventually  irritating enough so you soon realize you’ve got one. Unfortunately when you live alone, it’s hard to find these  horrid 8-legged insects.  You must  strip down and carefully admire yourself in the mirror.  YUCK!

This year my first tick bite was at the end of January when snow was piled high in all directions.  My second bite was on April 14th.  I didn’t feel it or find it until it had produced the nice rosy circle  indicating Lyme disease.  My doctor confirmed that fact as he wrote out a prescription for  Doxycycline.

 “One with breakfast, one with dinner, until they’re all gone,” said the pharmacist as she handed me a bottle  containeing 40 blue capsules.   “Oh, and stay out of the sun! These pills make your skin extremely sensitive.”  That advice didn’t sink in, so the next day after driving to town and back with my hands at 11 and 1 on the steering wheel, both hands looked like bright red lobster claws.

I didn’t know  when  or what sort of symptoms of Lyme would appear if I had actually gotten  it, and it wasn’t until April 29th that I learned.  I actually thought I’d broken my hip when I tried to get out of bed that morning.  Wow, what an incredible pain! 

Was having debilitating pain from my knee to my hip Lyme? That never occurred to me, but my doctor assured me it  was. Lyme disease can cause an infinite variety of problems, most of them muscular. It can affect any part of the body, even the brain, and can sometimes lasts for a year or more. 

Unable to even think about all the garden chores that needed doing, I decided to go on the Internet and read about Lyme disease. I wanted to learn more about this dreadful malady. I asked Google how Lyme disease got its name.  Up came close to a dozen websites on the subject.  I’d really hit the jackpot!

The first cases of Lyme disease were found  in Connecticut in a small town called Lyme. In 1975 a large number of children  living in the town became sick with what doctors thought was a new form of arthritis.  Many of the kids had some sort of insect bite as well. Eventually it was established that their aches and pains were not arthritis.  They were caused by tick bites.  The new disease was named Lyme,  in honor of the town?

Just off the coast beyond the town of Lyme is a small island which contains a biological testing facility, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  By 1954  the bio-warfare research being done at this facility  included experimental studies on a small insect, Borrelia urgdorferiin, the tick!

A word of caution - I’ve found that all sorts of information on the Internet appears to be written with such authority that it needs to  be read with a bit of skepticism, so take what follows with a grain of salt, or sugar or aspirin?    That said, here is a brief description of what I found. 

When it was established in 1975 that  the children of Lyme had all been bitten by ticks, people knowledgeable about the research being done on Plum Island immediately accused the research center of being responsible for the new disease, that obviously ticks had been poorly secured and birds had carried them over the water to the town.

According to several of the articles I read  the government denied there had ever been any experimenting with ticks, and not until some time in the 1990s was proof found that experiments with ticks had been performed. At that point  those responsible admitted that yes, at one time there had been a study of ticks at the facility. All this became known as the Lyme Conspiracy. It inspired dozens of articles, books and even a movie on the subject.

By the time I finished all this research myself,  my aches and pains were slowly beginning to shrink .  I trust they will soon fade away. Watch out for ticks this summer!  They are everywhere! 

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