Better Health, Naturally

Lyme Disease Revisted

Due, no doubt, to the large number of hikers and bikers in this area, my article in The Chief last month on Lyme disease and ticks brought a flood of queries. Here are some of them…

Question: You didn’t you include anything about the seasons when people are most at risk of tick bites. Any particular reason?

Answer: Yes. On the west coast, because we have no sustained winter cold, ticks are active throughout the year. Elsewhere, April to October are tick months.

Question: You referred readers to for information on removing ticks. But the suggested method, if you happen to be alone in the wild, requires things you may not have with you. And it’s impossible if you are alone. Is there no easier way?

Answer: No, unfortunately not. There are 101 bright ideas for getting the tick to back out, none of which work. My favourite is the theory that ticks breathe through their anus once their head is buried in you, and by covering them in grease you can make them let go and come up for air. Not so. Digging the head out with a needle or knife point is messy and painful, but preferable to trying to pull the tick out. The pressure you put on its body is likely to expel Lyme disease into your bloodstream, and its the head will invariably break off.

Question: Is it true, as I’ve heard, that Lyme disease is reaching near-epidemic proportions?

Answer: It depends where you are. Ecological factors and dense human populations have made Lyme the fastest spreading (both numerically and geographically) vector-borne (transmitted by a carrier) disease in North America. Fortunately, those factors are not present in our area.

Question: You said antibiotics were not entirely effective against Lyme disease. How so?

Answer: Antibiotics appear to work well against early stage Lime, though the disease sometimes returns months or years later. Against late stage Lime, which can be very serious, even fatal, antibiotics have proven to be of so little value, most clinicians no longer use them. To make matters worse, late stage manifestations can be diagnosed only by eliminating a host of similar diseases, a process that takes, on average, four years.

Question: Why isn’t there some sort of vaccine against Lime disease?

Answer: There is – or was. GlaxoSmithKline introduced a vaccine in 1998, but withdrew it in 2002 in the face of lawsuits from patients who claimed they were damaged by side effects. Even though the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control found the complaints groundless, the market for the vaccine was destroyed and it remains in limbo.

Question: Is Lyme disease contagious?

Answer: No. But it can be spread in the sense that household pets will bring ticks into the house and the ticks will climb aboard you. Check your dogs carefully if they’ve been in the woods. It can also be spread through blood products, organ transplants and through the placenta to a fetus.

©Dr. Ashely Gordon, 2009

Better Health, Naturally