I had a bit of a scare over the weekend. It started around 6:15 a.m. Sunday, when the boss gobbler of my neighborhood woke me from a sound sleep. Obeying a conditioned reflex familiar to turkey-hunting addicts, I stumbled from bed and soon found myself standing in my back yard clad in camo. By then I was awake enough to know it would be illegal to carry a shotgun, so I ventured forth armed only with binoculars. I spent a very enjoyable 90 minutes shadowing five strutting gobblers, who were following nine hens. However, I had forgotten something – tick repellent.
Later that day, I found a deer tick (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deer_tick) firmly embedded in my right thigh. The moment I saw him, I figured I had trouble. A 3/8-inch circle of skin around the tick’s head had turned an angry purple color in just a few hours. I had never seen this before. The fact that the center of the discolored skin had a dark spot made me think “Bull’s-Eye!”
For years, I have heard about the distinctive bull’s-eye rash that foreshadows Lyme disease. My wife agreed that this looked a heck of a lot like a bull’s eye, so first thing Monday morning I called my family doctor and asked if he could see me right away.
I don’t rush to the doctor every time I sneeze, but I have known people who suffered from tick-borne diseases, and I know they are nothing to mess with. Early symptoms include flu-like chills, fever, head and muscle aches and fatigue. More serious symptoms can emerge weeks, months, or years after a tick bite. These include severe headaches, facial paralysis, joint swelling, arthritis, heart problems and mental impairment. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any joints or brainpower to spare!
You can imagine how relieved I was when my doctor told me my rash was not the typical Lyme-disease bull’s eye. Mine was small compared to the real McCoy, and it didn’t have the usual, light-colored center. I was relieved but not completely reassured. What if my rash DEVELOPS into the classic Lyme rash? What if I get one of the other nine tick-borne diseases currently recognized by the American Lyme Disease Foundation? (http://aldf.com/lyme.shtml.) Some of these maladies, such as Ehrlichiosis, can be even worse than Lyme disease. What’s worse, some don’t give you the courtesy of a warning rash. Yikes!
My good family doc reassured me that, even though I didn’t have Lyme disease (yet), the purple skin rash was proof that the tick had given me something unpleasant, maybe staff or some other more common bacterial infection. He prescribed an oral antibiotic that will take all those nasty bugs out.
Why am I telling you about this? So you can do what I plan to do – get protected. I prefer tick repellents based on the chemical compound called “permanone.” Permanone-based repellents are widely available and amazingly effective. One application to clothing (never to skin) provides protection through several washings. DEET-based repellents work, too. I have plenty of both. However, I usually treat all my clothing right before turkey season, and turkey season doesn’t open until April 16. I simply let my guard down.
Don’t let it happen to you. Using some kind of tick repellent is the first line of defense against tick-borne illnesses. There are other things you can do to avoid Lyme and other similar maladies. To find out about those measures, visit http://go.usa.gov/Erj. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services also has some great information at http://go.usa.gov/Err.
I want to point out that Missouri is not currently known to have Lyme disease. You can get other tick-borne diseases here, so it pays to be careful. But your chances of getting ANY of these ailments are very, very small. With reasonable precautions, they are almost nonexistent. If fear of tick-borne diseases is enough to keep you indoors, you probably NEVER get into an automobile, where the risks are much greater.