Series: Tick Talk

  • Part 1: Overview
  • Part 2: Life history
  • Part 3: Feeding and habitat
  • Part 4: The tick, Lyme, human connection
  • Part 5: Testing, treatment, and resources

Adult female deer tick lying in wait on the underside of a fertile frond of an intermediate wood fern (Centennial Woods, Burlington)

Testing for Lyme

If you think you may have contracted Lyme disease, there are a few courses of action you might want to consider. First, you can send in the tick to a lab that can test to see if the tick is a carrier (link to labs). These tests are extremely reliable, particularly when the tick is sent in within a few days. The CDC does not recommend this (nor do I), because this does not have any real bearing on whether or not you have contracted Lyme. If the tick tests positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve contracted Lyme disease. If it comes back negative, it doesn’t mean that you have not contracted Lyme from another tick.

You can also get tested for Lyme disease. The test (the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or ELISA test) actually measures specific antibodies that develop as your body attempts to fight off the infection rather than testing for the presence of the bacteria itself. These tests are more reliable as time passes (because your body builds up more antibodies). The CDC states that Lyme should be diagnosed by a combo of signs and symptoms + a history of possibly exposure to infected ticks (link), but this conflicts with the above cited review paper published in the American Journal of Medicine that signs symptoms, other than the bullseye rash, cannot be used to diagnose the disease (link). What’s a person to do?!?!

Treatment for Lyme

If you think you’ve contracted Lyme, treatment for localized Lyme (when the disease is caught in the early stages) is rather straightforward, and typically successful. Treatment for disseminated or late Lyme disease is much more complicated. Here’s the CDC’s recommended treatment protocol for Lyme in the early stages:

Age Drug Dosage Maximum Duration, Days
Adults Doxycycline 100 mg, twice per day orally N/A 10-21*
Cefuroxime axetil 500 mg, twice per day orally N/A 14-21
Amoxicillin 500 mg, three times per day orally N/A 14-21
Children Amoxicillin 50 mg/kg per day orally, divided into 3 doses 500 mg per dose 14-21
Doxycycline 4 mg/kg per day orally, divided into 2 doses 100 mg per dose 10-21*
Cefuroxime axetil 30 mg/kg per day orally, divided into 2 doses 500 mg per dose 14-21

It’s not just deer ticks out there. Found this dog tick in Richmond, VT

Finding reliable information

There’s plenty of online resources out there that have conflicting information and even more inaccurate anecdotal evidence and narrative surrounding Lyme disease. Health care providers are increasingly aware of the problem, but even health care providers may commonly miss symptoms and/or misdiagnose Lyme (link). The CDC and Vermont Department of Health are reliable sources of information, but again, I highly encourage you to do your own research and be your own advocate if you suspect you may have contracted Lyme disease.

In doing my research, here were some of the common contradictions I found it various sources. I started highlighting in bold the side I tend to fall on based on my search of the scientific literature, but even after digging in quite a bit I didn’t really feel all that confident of making it black and white. I wanted to keep adding all these caveats to each statement, so I’ve added parentheses!

  • Larval stage CAN cannot transmit Lyme disease
  • Ticks can CANNOT transmit Lyme within 24 hours of being attached (though in very rare cases where a tick had just been feeding on another host)
  • Blood tests ARE are not reliable for detecting Lyme disease (mostly. There there can be false negatives, and blood tests should be used in conjunction with symptoms and likelihood of exposure)
  • Lyme can CANNOT be diagnosed by symptoms (except with red bulls eye rashes)
  • If the mouth parts of the tick are ripped off when removing the tick, these can CANNOT transmit Lyme disease

What a mess this is. And all this probably doesn’t make you feel that much better than when you started reading. Feel free to contact me with questions/corrections.

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