This winter has been unseasonably warm for Nevada and California, and with warm weather comes ticks. I was bit sometime in March, when there were a few warm days sprinkled throughout a month of cold and snow. I hope you learn from my rather painful experiences and protect yourself, family and friends from Lyme!
Lyme Disease in the Great Basin
Lyme disease is the fastest growing infectious disease in the United States. It is also one of the most misunderstood diseases and the lack of education available to the public is chilling, particularly since Lyme has no prejudices and only one target audience: outdoorsmen. Ranchers, hunters and buckaroos all stand the possibility of contracting Lyme due to their profession. While Great Basin buckaroos may have only trod on their high heeled underslungs from their horse to the hitching rail in the 70’s, the cowboys of today are expected to do a great deal more of than the shadow riders of yesteryear. Outfits big and small expect their riders to fix fence, fight fires, irrigate, and maybe even feed the bottle calves. All of these normal activities of the cowboy bring him or her constantly in contact with ticks, and therefore more vulnerable to contract Lyme.
Take me for example. Seven years ago I was 19 years old and newly hired onto a small family ranch in Elko County. It was mostly cold with a few warm days sprinkled throughout the beginning of calving season like a gift from the gods. I had several bummer calves whose resistance to learning how to suck from a rubber teat insured that I spent time every day hanging onto them. Not long after my bottle calves took up residence in my horse trailer, a red “bulls-eye” rash appeared on my chest. The bulls eye rash is known as the hallmark of Lyme disease but only appears in 50% of cases. I had never even heard of Lyme and when a doctor diagnosed me with ringworm from working with livestock, I thought nothing of it and happily went back to work. What followed were the worst and most difficult 17 months of my life, but being completely unaware of the symptoms of Lyme and being affectionately known as “hard-headed,” I ignored my worsening symptoms until my body completely shut down, and I could no longer pretend that something wasn’t wrong. It is my hope that through my experience you can protect yourself, family and friends from a potentially life threatening and for sure, life-altering encounter with Lyme disease.
I had extremely classic symptoms of Lyme when I started a new cowboy job in Tuscarora. I caused myself (and probably my employers!) a lot of frustration and had I been aware of what they meant, I could have avoided the last 5 years of fighting for my life. Here are symptoms you need to pay attention to and follow up on immediately if you start displaying any of these.
Flu-Like Symptoms – Fever, chills, joint and muscle pain and catching multiple viral and bacterial infections. It also displays itself as the common cold.
Bulls Eye Rash - According to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), only 50% of people who have Lyme will get a “bulls-eye” rash. Many people will get several and they can appear to be very faint. Mine was misdiagnosed as ring worm and to me it just looked like one red ring inside another.
Intense Fatigue - No matter how much sleep you get, you can’t seem to stay awake. Towards the end I couldn’t drive from Elko to Tuscarora without pulling over for a 30-minute nap.
Seeing Double – If you haven’t returned from a bender in town and you’re seeing double, you could have Lyme. I remember riding up to heel a calf to doctor and almost falling off my horse because I could see two calves.
Muscle Weakness – All of a sudden you become incredibly weak. At one point I could barely lift my saddle onto my horse.
Dizziness – Loping circles becomes a terrifying chore and you find yourself accidently walking into walls whether you’re blonde or not.
Blacking Out – You start passing out frequently and for no apparent reason.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
Conduct thorough and frequent tick checks. If you find a tick imbedded in you, SAVE THE TICK! You can send it to IGeneX Labs (800-832-3200) to be tested for Lyme, which will help you receive proper treatment if it is infected. Use an EPA-approved insect repellent. The best repellent is plain old fly-spray. Apply on your boots and jeans. You can catch Lyme disease from tick spit alone. They don’t have to be imbedded in you. Whenever you come in contact with ticks, wash your hands. For reliable, updated information on Lyme disease, go to www.Lyme.org
*First published in The Nevada Rancher. Like them on Facebook and tell 'em I sent you!
xo xo Liz