If you were, this week, to develop a sore throat and fever, complete with aches and chills, your first thought would likely be of COVID-19. Your doctor might tell you to stay home and quarantine unless things got worse. And they’d be right to do so! If the symptoms seemed to improve after a week or two, you would consider yourself lucky and move on. Yet these symptoms, all too familiar in our world of flu outbreaks and coronavirus pandemics, could be caused by Lyme disease. If not treated, they could develop into chronic Lyme.
Spreading this awareness has become a mission for Dr. Drew Sinatra, one of the country’s leading naturopathic physicians. Dr. Sinatra is a self-described “health detective,” working with patients on “health care” rather than “disease care” and educating the public through Healthy Directions. He notes that this is not the time to forget about Lyme disease; the CDC estimates that more than 300,000 people are diagnosed in the US each year, and many more may be under the radar.
“We are all spending a lot more time outdoors this summer to maintain social distancing recommendations with the goal to reduce our risk against the threat of COVID-19, which is important. Now we just need to be vigilant about another threat that thrives in wooded and grassy areas, known as the ‘great masquerader,’ or Lyme disease. The symptoms of the flu and Lyme disease are very similar, however the biggest obstacle with Lyme disease is that more than 70% of diagnostic tests come back negative – even if someone is positive. So, unfortunately people often go untreated for years, until the Lyme disease symptoms become debilitating.”
So, what can we do to prevent Lyme disease?
Check for ticks
Tick bites are still the #1 cause of Lyme disease. Take extra precautions like tucking long pants into socks and using DEET or permethrin when adventuring in tall grass or woods. When you get home, throw your clothes into the dryer (on high heat for 10-15 minutes), take a shower, and do a thorough tick check using a mirror and, if possible, another set of eyes. Make sure to check sneaky spots like behind your ears and in your underwear. If you do find a tick, no need to panic! Remove it carefully with proper technique and tools (ideally something like this, but tweezers can work), and then call your doctor.
Know the symptoms
In the first month after infection, Lyme disease can show up as fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
If not treated, later symptoms may develop such as cognitive dysfunction, neurological complaints, muscle aches, migratory joint pain and chronic fatigue.
If you get a tick bite or have symptoms consistent with Lyme disease, get yourself tested. Dr. Sinatra recommends a blood enzyme immunoassay (EIA) or blood immunofluorescence assay (IFA). If either test comes back positive, ask your doctor to request a Western blot test, but keep in mind that this test can show a false negative even if Lyme disease is present.
Find the right care
If you test positive or would like more careful testing, Dr. Sinatra suggests you seek out a Lyme disease specialist.
“You want a doctor who is going to combine the best of both conventional and alternative medicine,” says Dr. Sinatra. “Killing the microorganisms with pharmaceutical or herbal antibiotics is only one piece of the healing puzzle when it comes to Lyme disease treatment.”
If you’re not sure of Lyme literate doctors in your area, check out the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society here!
Remember, you’re not alone
Mighty Well was founded to help support patients through challenging times. Our CEO and co-founder, as well as so many of our Mighty Models, brand ambassadors, and team members have their own stories with Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. Our products, stories, and community are here for you when you need it.