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Discussion: Ancient history of Lyme disease in North America

in: Orienteering; General

Aug 31, 2017 7:06 PM # 

"A team of researchers led by the Yale School of Public Health has found that the Lyme disease bacterium is ancient in North America, circulating silently in forests for at least 60,000 years—long before the disease was first described in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1976 and long before the arrival of humans.

For the first time, the full genomes of the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, were sequenced from deer ticks to reconstruct the history of this invading pathogen.

The finding shows that the ongoing Lyme disease epidemic was not sparked by a recent introduction of the bacterium or an evolutionary change—such as a mutation that made the bacterium more readily transmissible. It is tied to the ecological transformation of much of North America. Specifically, forest fragmentation and the population explosion of deer in the last century have created optimal conditions for the spread of ticks and triggered this ongoing epidemic. ..."
Aug 31, 2017 7:22 PM # 

It's probably worth mentioning from time to time that Lyme disease seems to be one of the more significant dangers for orienteering in New England. I know at least a half dozen orienteers who contracted it, all seeming to contract it in New England or very nearby. Orienteering seems to be an incredibly safe sport, but this is one disease and hazard that it's worth being aware of when in or near New England. (Supposedly it exists elsewhere, but I don't currently know anyone who has contracted it elsewhere.). Sorry, not trying to hijack, just to give the periodic heads up in case anyone new to New England orienteering wasn't aware.
Sep 1, 2017 11:30 AM # 
Agree mostly with Jim Baker, but Lyme certainly exists in the southeast PA region. I know two non-orienteers that contracted it there and I am certain that I picked it up after a meet at Valley Forge (case confirmed and that was my only "outdoor time" during the incubation period) almost twenty years ago.
Sep 1, 2017 12:42 PM # 
Very interesting. Thanks.
Sep 1, 2017 3:40 PM # 
OK, good to know about southeastern Pennsylvania. It's probably worth being careful about ticks of various types anywhere, as there are a number of serious tick-borne diseases.
Sep 1, 2017 3:47 PM # 
The ecology of the disease is absolutely fascinating from a scientific standpoint - I teach it as a case study in my ecology courses. Worth looking at the work of Richard Ostfeld at the Institute for Ecosystem Studies - he has shown that it's not really deer populations, but rather mice that carry the bulk of the tick population, and that there is a cyclical explosion of the mouse populations related to episodic ("masting") large crops of acorns from oak trees. So more acorns means more mice the following year which means more ticks, which means greater chance of getting Lyme. The idea that you're more likely to get a disease two years after a huge acorn crop is a major surprise to people, but it means epidemiologists can predict "bad" years with some accuracy.

There are other influences of ecology that control the system, such as the aforementioned fragmentation, which also tends to lead to higher populations of mice because their predators are excluded from smaller fragments.
Sep 1, 2017 4:39 PM # 
So praising your cat when it comes back with an offering is a good idea? Or cutting down oaks in your yard and replacing with other species? In any case, knowing to check for ticks after time in fields or forest, and seeing a doctor if you find a tick dug in (for checking or treating you for possible disease), are probably good ideas still?
Sep 1, 2017 6:25 PM # 
The cat may be bringing a mouse that has ticks looking for a new host...
Sep 1, 2017 7:07 PM # 
Good point. (But it does at least reduce mice numbers a bit. Supposedly domesticated cats with access to the outdoors have a huge influence on population of small birds; perhaps they have similar effect on mice. One could always check the corpse over appreciatively, and discard discreetly.)
Sep 1, 2017 10:18 PM # 
As opposed to what? Appreciatively eating it?
Sep 2, 2017 12:50 AM # 
Sep 2, 2017 5:16 PM # 
I believe Carol Walker contracted Lyme while up in western Canada this summer.
It definitely is around in places other than New England, including all of the Mid-Atlantic states and northern Midwest (Minn, Wis, Mich). And, actually, according to a map I used in a blog post about ticks, you can get Lyme anywhere in the US.
IIRC, this is one of those banner years following recent oak tree masting. There's some other tick-borne disease that is much worse than Lyme (death, permanent paralysis, that kind of thing), so prevention and frequent tick checks are imperative.
Sep 2, 2017 5:50 PM # 

I'm just wondering if the areas without reported cases in the northeast are because the disease is not there, or because there aren't many people in that county reporting the disease.
Sep 2, 2017 6:17 PM # 
An important note on that map:

"The presence of a dot in a state does not necessarily mean that Lyme disease was acquired in that state. People travel between states, and
the place of residence is sometimes different from the place where the patient became infected."

These aren't quite maps of where you're more likely to contract the disease (though probably roughly so, as I suspect that most cases are contracted nearish where people live, and fewer far from home).
Sep 2, 2017 6:19 PM # 
Also prevalent in London Parks, and throughout the UK.

I suspect the Lyme "epidemic" comes from spreading awareness rather than anything ecological.
Sep 2, 2017 6:20 PM # 
I think that far northern Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont are rather thinly populated. Even the Adirondacks have fewer dots, probably for a similar reason. It may be (in the northeast) a map of population weighted by likelihood to go out into the woods or fields and be snacked on by a deer tick.
Sep 2, 2017 11:24 PM # 
quoting peggyd: There's some other tick-borne disease that is much worse than Lyme (death, permanent paralysis, that kind of thing), so prevention and frequent tick checks are imperative.

Powassan virus, dangerous because it resembles meningitis and is a *virus*, not a bacterium, so doesn't respond to antibiotics. Several cases have been reported in NY state in the past few years (including fatalities).
Sep 3, 2017 2:31 AM # 
A recent fatality:
Sep 3, 2017 11:10 PM # 
Does tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) exist in the US? Far worse than Lyme disease, can cause serious meningitis and other neural damage, including death. My brother contracted it in Sweden about 3 years ago, after having orienteered at elite levels and being a professional cartographer for 40 years. He survived but with a paralyzed arm, brain fatigue, and can't do any sports anymore.
Sep 3, 2017 11:13 PM # 
I seem to remember a huge crop of acorns here 2 years ago. So many that I raked them up and used them like stones where I park a car. So ticks could be bad this year? But there are a lot of cats around....
Sep 3, 2017 11:49 PM # 
Most of the ticks I saw this year were unusually large, but they didn't seem unusually plentiful. (The big ones are less scary because they're easy to notice, and probably not the ones that carry Lyme, though they may be carrying other diseases.)

I was hospitalized for a week last December, for an affliction that was never really diagnosed, but all of the docs were trying really hard to blame it on ticks, despite my telling them that I'm very aware of ticks and confident that I hadn't been bitten. (And despite all of the tests repeatedly coming up negative.)
Sep 4, 2017 2:23 AM # 
Was talking with Bernie Breton who was diagnosed with Lyme. He said he never saw the tick or knew he'd been bitten

Mary Jo was bitten by a deer tick and they are tiny. I mean really small. She didn't even think it was a tick until she got it off and inspected it with a magnifier.

They are not like the typical tick that are easy to spot or even feel. Which is why I have decided to treat my O' pants, shirts and socks with Permethrin.
Sep 4, 2017 9:54 AM # 
There's a vaccination against TBE, and around here, it's recommended for adults who enter the forest in endemic areas.
Sep 4, 2017 10:41 AM # 
I've had three confirmed cases of Lyme, never saw the ticks that got me, nor had the erythema migrans "bullseye" rash..
Sep 4, 2017 11:24 AM # 
It's an interesting situation when you've got bugs that you can't see, symptoms that you don't get, tests for which negative results don't mean you don't have it, and medications that don't actually work. I've heard of all four of those things in various cases. It's like dealing with ghosts.
Sep 4, 2017 1:49 PM # 
+1 for Permethrin treated clothing. My family started wearing clothing treated with permethrin in the forest this spring, and so far it seems successful.
There are various retailers in the US, including ;, and has a line of clothes called "no fly zone'. While these aren't 'orienteering clothes' per se, these retailers do sell synthetic clothes for sport and hiking that might work for you depending on your fashion consciousness.
Sadly, you cannot purchase these clothes at retail in Canada and US retailers are not allowed to legally ship them to Canada, as permethrin has not been approved for use in Canada in clothing (and won't be until a manufacturer or importer applies for a license). However, I have been successful in mail ordering insect shield clothes to Canada from White Sierra as it appears they do not know they are not allow to ship to me :)
As carlch mentioned, you can also treat your own clothing with a product like this:
Although you need to be careful - while permethrin is quite stable and safe when dry, it is quite toxic out of the bottle, especially for cats. If you want to do this, here is link to a good guide:
Run safely!
Sep 4, 2017 4:10 PM # 
Another +1 for Permethrin treated clothing. Worked perfectly in SWE and SCOT this summer - when I wore it, but got a couple of ticks when I didn't. Have used it for years - including on our dog. No ticks on him, but dead ones
Sep 4, 2017 5:04 PM # 
I forgot to mention that Insect Shield has a program where they will treat your clothes for you:
You send in clean clothes, and they send it back treated. There are limitations in the types of fabric, so all O clothes may not work, but it is a possibility.
Sep 4, 2017 5:07 PM # 
Would treated clothes need to be retreated after being laundered x number of times?
Sep 4, 2017 5:10 PM # 
Generally I've read that self-treated clothes are good for about 5-10 washes, while the factory treated clothes (including the mail ins) are good for about 70 washes.
Sep 4, 2017 7:58 PM # 
I certainly had symptoms, just not the 'classic' bullseye rash that only appears in about half of cases...
Sep 4, 2017 10:49 PM # 
But there are cases where people have no symptoms that are specific to whatever the tick-borne disease might be, so it could be any number of things, unless the test results are positive. In my case: no known tick bite, serious symptoms (bleeding from the spleen and liver malfunctioning), but no symptoms that couldn't be attributed to various other things, and negative on all tests, repeatedly. They gave me antibiotics anyway, even though one doc thought it might have been a physical injury that I didn't particularly notice, and my primary doc finally gave up on testing and tried to pin it on my having taken 10 aspirin over the course of two days (after I was already sick). When you can't figure it out, you can always just blame ticks.
Sep 5, 2017 12:31 AM # 
Sounds nasty JJ. Is it still a problem? I hope that it resolves, or that it has resolved.
Sep 5, 2017 12:49 AM # 
Nope, all better, but nobody ever really figured out what happened. After a day or two in the hospital I just wanted out of there, and after a few more days they had to admit that there weren't actually doing anything to help me, and let me leave. No further problems, subsequent blood tests showed everything returning to normal. The biggest pain in the ass for me was that they couldn't feed me for a while because they had more tests to do, and when I don't eat, I get a splitting headache. They started out giving me Tylenol for that, which I considered stupid, and they soon realized that was a dumb thing to give a liver patient, so they changed the prescription to some opioid, and I wanted no part of that. So I spent a few days with bags of ice on my head instead.
Sep 5, 2017 1:52 AM # 
I treat my clothes after the spring season and again after the fall season. In other words after 5-10 washings. I use Martins 10% Permethrin and dilute it 20:1 to get a 0.5% solution. I spray that on my clothes until they are pretty saturated and then put them in a gallon zip-lock bag for a few hours so the solutions gets to all the various parts including the inside. Than, I hang them in the shade until they dry.

The first time I did it I used the Sawyer 0.5% solution spray bottle but it is a lot less expensive using the agriculture version and than diluting it---especially doing clothes for a couple people a couple times a year.

I think it works in that I haven't noticed any ticks on me after orienteering for about 1-1/2 years. As a side benefit, it helps with the mosquitoes though they can still attack the exposed flesh.

This discussion thread is closed.