Terror of ticks
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Our decision to raise chickens was primarily motivated by the fact that they will consume ticks and other pesky insects. We love fresh, organic eggs, but we especially love watching them roam our yard pecking greedily at the lawn. As soon as we let them out of their winter pen this spring, we saw a huge decrease in tick prevalence. Unfortunately, they did not manage to get every single solitary tick.
On May 3, we spent most of the morning working outside; cutting brush, raking the lawn and landscaping our flower beds. I headed inside just after lunch to perform our daily tick check. One by one, the kids lined up patiently for me to look them over. In disgust, I pulled a tiny mobile deer tick from Ryder’s blond locks first. As I was placing it in a sandwich bag, Nadia, my 4-year-old started freaking out. She was screaming and crying that a tick was biting her head. In dismay, I discovered another tiny critter, this one in the active act of burring into my daughter’s scalp.
Frantically, I ran to the bathroom and grabbed tweezers and Vaseline. I smothered the evil black bug in petroleum jelly and attempted to maneuver it out of her head. The little devil seemed to tunnel deeper as I tried desperately to grasp it between the steel posts of the tweezers. With sickening revulsion, I realized I had captured within the grips of my instrument a headless, bloody body. The miniscule dark head remained deeply embedded in my little girl’s scalp.
By this point, Nadia was panicked as well; hysterically thrashing and screaming, and we tried our best to hold her down and retrieve the missing tick’s head. It seemed to be clamped tightly onto her flesh and we simply could not get it out without causing more trauma.
The bad news was that I had inadvertently missed our nightly tick check the previous evening because I had attended a field trip to Durham that day and then spent the night helping the cast of the middle school play “Mystery at Shady Acres” apply their stage makeup. For all I knew, that tick had been feeding on my precious baby girl for nearly 48 hours. I felt like a total failure.
After reviewing the situation, our pediatrician agreed to put Nadia on a prophylactic dose of Amoxicillin; due primarily to the location of the tick, the length of time it might have been there and the fact that its head was still embedded inside of her scalp. I thought we had dodged a bullet.
The next week was an unusually stressful one; Nadia was overly clingy, emotional and cranky. I attributed her strange behavior to the nasty weather and her anxious concern over being on medication. As a general rule of thumb, we try to avoid antibiotics and pain meds with our children unless absolutely necessary. By early the following week, she was down to her last few doses, and everything seemed to have stabilized.
On Tuesday morning, I noticed a strange line of bumps along Nadia’s waist. By that afternoon she had a small, generalized rash on her trunk. By 8 that evening, she was completely covered in bright pink, raised welts from her chest to her shins.
The next morning, Nadia was diagnosed with what we thought to be an allergic reaction to Amoxicillin. By that evening, it was apparent that something else was going on with my girl. She spiked a temperature, her forehead developed a large, mysterious bruise, and she was literally writhing in pain. He knees, hands and feet swelled up like balloons, and she just kept crying and crying that it hurt. She was unable to walk and she looked like she belonged in an emergency room; where she actually ended up soon after.
Off to Boston
We were predominately concerned about a tick-borne illness or a co-infection that the amoxicillin had not been able to address. An allergic reaction did not explain her unusual bruising, her high level of pain, and her systemic fluid retention.
As difficult as it was for us to head toward Boston Children’s Hospital, that is what we did. We were not willing to take any unnecessary risks with our baby.
After seven hours in the ER, we finally got some resolution. Nadia was officially diagnosed with Serum Like-Sickness, which is basically an abnormal inflammatory reaction that occurs in response to defective metabolism of certain medicine byproducts. The immune system falsely identifies a protein in antiserum as a potentially harmful substance (antigen); resulting in the immune system attacking the antiserum. This reaction occurs seven-21 days after initial exposure to the medication. In our case, it was 10 days later, but this diagnosis still did not fully explain the strange bruising on Nadia’s head.
The reality is that she still might be fighting another tick-borne illness, perhaps Rocky Mountain Fever, Babesiosis, or the originally suspected Lyme. Doxycycline is the only medication that would effectively fight these diseases. Unfortunately our insurance company does not view this situation with the same urgency that we do. They denied this drug for my daughter due to her age. Apparently it has a 1 percent chance of causing permanent staining on her adult teeth. Apparently, this was deemed as more detrimental than possibly contracting a potentially fatal immune- suppressing disease. It took several phones calls and the repeated communication of all the key details, but we finally did get our pre-auth from the insurance company. I am grateful that Ellen went to bat for us.
The good news is that we are acutely aware of the potential symptoms and we have already initiated blood testing. It takes time to get the results, and early blood work does not necessarily identify these illnesses.
We will be watching her like a hawk for the next several months and will immediately address any related symptoms or concerns. It is a full-time job being on the lookout for tick-borne disease. We must be unyielding, it is our only option.
My hope is that one day we might consider bringing back the process of widespread spraying for the deadly critters. Or better yet, we should contemplate routine blood work with each annual physical for Lyme and the other most prevalent tick-borne illnesses. Until then, we each need to be our own advocates. Check daily for ticks, know the symptoms, be willing to take on your insurance companies until you get the resolution or the answers you need.
I passionately love New Hampshire, but in all honesty I will consider relocating if something does not change concerning our widespread acceptance of and ignorance toward the diabolical dangers that ticks bring into our very own backyards.
Be safe, be alert and be relentless.