News

Bedford resident keeps others informed about Lyme disease

Friday, May 25, 2012

By TERESA SANTOSKI

Staff Writer

In recent years, ticks have surpassed bees, mosquitoes and poison ivy as the top concern of outdoor enthusiasts. With so much information out there about ticks and the diseases they carry, it’s helpful to have someone knowledgeable on the topic point out the important bits.

David Hunter, who is chairman of the Bedford Lyme Disease Council, founder of the Greater Manchester Lyme Disease Support Group and facilitator for the New Hampshire Lyme Disease Support Group for Teens, is that someone.

Hunter took some time away from his busy schedule of lectures and meetings to tell us what time of year ticks are most active, how to properly remove a tick and why we’re hearing more about Lyme disease than ever before.

Here’s part of the conversation:

Q: What motivated you to become an advocate regarding Lyme disease?

A: My oldest daughter contracted Lyme 12 years ago and missed high school as a result. It didn’t take me long to realize that Lyme disease is a very political and misunderstood illness. As I got more involved, I realized there was a huge need for more public awareness and education.

Q: Can you tell me more about the Bedford Lyme Disease Council?

A: … A little over three years ago, I decided to start up a Lyme information and awareness group in Bedford. My co-chairman, Sheri Stickney, and I felt that it would be nice to have a resource in town where residents could seek out and find reliable information about this complex and potentially debilitating disease.

We were able to secure the Richmond Room at the Bedford Library and we hold meetings there on the second Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. Anyone can walk in and meet with us whether they have Lyme or are just looking to become more educated about Lyme. We cover the spectrum from ticks and bites to diagnosis and treatment as well as the difficulty of dealing with the chronic form of the disease.

Q: Why are we hearing more about ticks and Lyme disease than we used to?

A: Lyme is a growing epidemic. We live in one of the two or three most endemic states in the country. A female deer tick can lay up to 3,000 eggs, so the ticks are multiplying very rapidly. In Hillsborough County, studies show that as many as 60 percent to 70 percent of the deer ticks are infected with the Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme. … Lyme disease is known as the “New Great Imitator” because its symptoms are so varied and it can look like so many other illnesses. That just adds to the confusion.

Q: What time of year are people most likely to pick up ticks?

A: Lyme can be contracted at any time of year, but the ticks are much more active in the spring, summer and fall. As I like to say, if you come down with flu-like symptoms in the summer, consider the possibility that you were bit by a tick and contracted Lyme.

Q: What are the signs of concern in a tick bite?

A: Generally, the public knows about joint pain, stiff neck, flu-like symptoms and a bull’s eye rash, but what many people don’t realize is the number of other symptoms that may also be associated with Lyme, including fatigue, cardiac issues and a host of neuropsychiatric symptoms. One telltale characteristic of Lyme is that the symptoms often migrate around the body. To the uninformed, this can look like hypochondria, but it is real and it is indication of active infection. One more complicating factor is that the same ticks are co-infected with other pathogens, so often people are ending up with multiple infections, many of which require different antibiotics than those given for Lyme. Among the most common co-infections are Bartonella, Babesia, Ehrlichia and Anaplasmosis.

Q: What types of ticks carry Lyme disease?

A: The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, is the primary carrier of Lyme disease, but it is a myth that you can’t get Lyme from a dog tick. Plus, these various types of ticks are carrying other pathogens, so the public should not be overly complacent about ticks that are not deer ticks.

Q: What is the proper way to remove a tick?

A: When removing a tick, it is important to irritate the tick as little as possible. Otherwise, it will be more likely to spew the contents of its gut back into your bloodstream. That might include several different pathogens. Thus, one should not apply Vaseline, fingernail polish or soap to the tick, nor should one apply a hot match, since any of these methods would irritate the tick. Rather, it is best to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and apply slow, steady, upward pressure until the tick releases. Tweezers are a good tool for this. There is also a notched spoon that seems to be effective in this process. Once you remove the tick, you can send it for testing, but just as the Lyme tests for people are far from reliable, tick-testing is not always accurate, either. It is important to document the tick bite by noting the date of the bite and any symptoms that follow. Keep an eye out for a rash and know that a Lyme rash can appear in many sizes and shapes and does not always appear as a bull’s eye rash. If one does get a classic bull’s eye rash, that is a definitive diagnostic indication of Lyme and requires immediate treatment.

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