Everything you thought you knew about Lyme disease is wrong

Spring in Maine means lots of wonderful things like erratic temperatures, snow squalls and crocuses, and mud season. It also means that ticks are coming out to play and they are looking for fresh blood to suck and infect with their nasty buffet of diseases.

Of particular concern is Lyme disease, which was the focus of a talk given this past July at the Martha Vineyard Hospital by Dr. Nevena Zubcevik who is the attending physician at Harvard Medical School and co-director of Dean Center for Tick-Borne Illness at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown. Her talk, which lit up the internet this past July, is making the rounds again on social media and for an important reason. Most of what we know about Lyme disease, according to Dr. Zubcevik, is just plain wrong.

Here are a few highlights from that lecture that readers in Maine should take notice of.

Lyme is expressed differently in kids than adults

According to Dr. Zubcivek, headaches are the most common symptom in children. She also noted “Mood disturbance, fatigue, and irritability are also frequent symptoms in children. If they are acting out in school all of a sudden, get them tested.” We are often told to look for flu-like symptoms or swollen and painful joints, but those are symptoms most commonly found in adults, not kids.

Ticks do not need 48 hours to infect you with Lyme disease. They need only 15 minutes.

Dr. Zubcivek told the audience that “The conception that the tick has to be attached for 48 hours to inject the bacteria is completely outdated,” she said, adding that “There are studies that show that an attachment of 15 minutes can give you anaplasmosis,10 minutes for the Powassan virus, and for the different strains of Borrelia burgdorferi, we have no idea.”

Do you know what this means? It means that doing tick checks after running around in the woods for the afternoon may not be enough to prevent infection. Treating your clothes and outdoor gear with Permethrin to prevent ticks from even touching you may be worth the cost.

Doctors are getting Lyme disease meds totally wrong

When you get bit by a tick, you may think that running to the doctor’s office and getting a two-day dose of doxycycline may be enough to kill the tick-borne illness and thus prevent getting Lyme disease. Guess again. According to Dr. Zubcevic, that has “little to no prophylactic value” and that “It should be 100 to 200 milligrams of doxycycline twice a day for 20 days, regardless of the time of engorgement.”

She also pointed out that it is inconsistent advice that babies and children and pregnant women should stay away from doxycycline since that is a drug that has been commonly prescribed by dermatologists to treat acne for kids and adults and is considered quite safe.

Most strains of Lyme aren’t even showing up on medical tests

In the US alone there are 10 known strains of Lyme disease, but many of them are not showing up with an accurate positive on lab tests, which according to Dr. Zubcivek is leaving 69 out of 100 Lyme disease patients untreated and maybe even undiagnosed.

You’re removing ticks the wrong way

We’re told to twist and pull the tick when it is embedded in your skin, but if you do that then you risk squeezing the body and pushing the nasty Lyme-causing bacteria into your bloodstream And those oils people use to naturally remove ticks? They cause the little buggers to vomit, and guess what that does? It just infects you even faster. Dr. Zubcevik says to use tweezers and get at the head of the tick then twist and pull in one motion. If the tick is really embedded and you don’t think you can get it out, then get to a doctor’s office and seek help.

Ticks are not just gross and annoying, they are potentially deadly. Arm yourself with good information and preventative measures to make sure you get through another warm Maine season without getting bit.

For more information on Dr. Zubcevik and her work, check out these links:

Spaulding Rehabilitation Network