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When my children were young, Lyme disease was just starting to move northward Connecticut and into the Hudson Valley, where my sisters lived. It was fairly unknown here, where winter temperatures would reliably dip to 20 below, killing all ticks.
When one of the children caught Lyme disease and associated Bell’s palsy, we had to convince the doctor to test him, even after explaining that we had visited Duchess County and had ticks removed from both. children. Even then, the doctor insisted on a CT scan first to rule out a brain tumor. It was Lyme disease.
Fast forward about 20 years. Winters are milder here in the North Country and ticks are abundant. Lyme disease, transmitted by the deer tick, is common and now, more and more, other tick-borne diseases are on the increase. When this heat spell appeared a few weeks ago, the ticks woke up. A walk in the woods with the dog was followed by a thorough tick check, and usually ended with half a dozen small black ticks brushing off her and two or three of me. I’m glad she’s a white dog, ticks are easy to see.
I must have missed one on me because I found one embedded in my shoulder one evening. We pulled it out with a tool from our arsenal of tick repellants, and I forgot everything.
A few days later, I fell ill, with fever and chills, headache and flu-like symptoms. I was pretty crazy because I am careful with a pandemic. I only go to the market every three or four weeks, work from home, wear a mask and wash my hands and use disinfectant if I have to make a rare trip to the bank or the hardware store. How did I get sick?
I spoke to my doctor and she checked my symptoms, asked about the tick bites and said the shed ran all the tick labs, but only after ruling out COVID. It took three days to get the test and the results, negative. Then I had to wait until the weekend to schedule lab tests, but also became increasingly ill. I did the blood tests a full week after the symptoms started, then waited five days for most of the results to come back.
My doctor called. It wasn’t Lyme. It was not mono. The blood tests only indicated that I was sick. My doctor said it was probably a virus and I was probably on the mend. And I felt better then. Until I got worse.
No more testing, no more guessing about what it might be when, finally, the labs for the last two tick-borne infections, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, returned. And it was there: I had anaplasmosis, which can cause all of the symptoms I had, and some I didn’t.
Like most tick-borne diseases, the treatment is doxycycline. The deer tick, also known as the blacklegged tick, is our most common culprit and can transmit Lyme, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and powassan. The solitary star tick, also widespread in the northeast, can also transmit ehrlichiosis.
I got a call from the county public health nurse, who told me that anaplasmosis was a reportable disease since the state was tracking tick-borne illnesses. She said stretching in hot weather caused anaplasmosis to spike, which could make people a lot sicker than me, especially if they didn’t get treated quickly.
So I was glad he cooled down again, killing ticks. I waited three frosty mornings in a row before bringing the dog back to the woods. We enjoyed the crackle of frost underfoot and the idea of snowshoeing these trails in about a month.
In other words, if the winter behaves as it is supposed to. But if it doesn’t and it warms up again, watch for these ticks.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it on December 6th. Contact Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. The opinions expressed in Greenpoint are his own and not necessarily the newspapers.
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