Tick Season: What You Should Know
Perched out on a low-lying branch, something is waiting for you. It will be there all day... absolutely motionless. Only when the warmth of your body passes by will it spring into action. If you do not come, it will quickly dry up and die... but there will be many more waiting to take its place. Ticks spend most of their existence under moist leaf litter. Spending time perched out on a limb is a necessary gamble that the vast majority of ticks lose. But it only takes survival of a few to make the connection with a warm-blooded host. Once embedded in a host’s skin, a blood meal ensures perpetuation of a cycle that has been going on since mammals first walked the earth. Unfortunately, ticks never travel alone. Parasitic microbes are also part of that ancient cycle. The most well know is Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but there are many others. Ticks can carry a variety of different disease-causing microbes including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. All ticks carry potentially pathogenic microbes. Late spring and early summer is peak tick season. About the time it warms up enough to put on shorts for the first time is when that tick is most apt to be waiting for you. For a creature that spends most of its life barely moving, you would be amazed at how fast it can spring over to your leg and crawl up to find a soft spot. The larval stage is only the size of a head of a pin, so you may never see it. Once attached, tick saliva numbs up the skin so there is no pain associated with the bite. A variety of bioactive chemicals present in tick saliva immediately circulate throughout the host’s body. This sets the stage for the coming invasion of microbes by systematically disabling key portions of the immune system. If other microbes already happen to be present in the host’s body (from a previous bite), saliva chemicals also stimulate those microbes to mobilize toward the tick to get on board. Human and animal hosts often harbor tick-dependent microbes without even knowing it. Once the tick breaks through capillary walls in the skin, blood rushes into the tick. Microbes inside the tick are able to immediately sense what type of host is being invaded. Borrelia, the microbe that causes Lyme disease, can adapt to a variety of hosts, but it takes about 24 hours for the adaptation to be complete before it can leave the tick and invade the new host. Many other tick-borne microbes, however, can infect the new host immediately. Once adapted, microbes flood into the new host and quickly disperse throughout the body. Initial symptoms such as low grade fever, general achiness, and mild flu-like symptoms are typical with most tick-borne illnesses. Rashes at the site of the bite are common, but the classic bull’s eye rash associated with Lyme disease only occurs in ⅓ of cases. Symptoms resolve within a week or so after the immune system has cleared microbes from the bloodstream. By then, however, some microbes will be embedded deep in tissues. The unique corkscrew shape of the borrelia bacteria allows it to bore into cartilage, muscle, brain tissue, eyes, and skin. Once deep in tissues, it gains protection from the immune system. Other types of tick-borne microbes infect specific cells in the body (which type of cell depends on the microbe) and live inside those cells. This is also an effective strategy for evading the immune system. If your immune system is healthy, you may never hear from the microbes again. Once deep in tissues and suppressed by the immune system, they can exist in low concentrations for a very long time. Who knows how much of arthritis and other symptoms of aging may actually be caused by hidden microbes. If your immune system is compromised at the time of infection or you happen to get infected with multiple microbes at once, then the initial tug-of-war with the immune system never ends. Chronic infection with tick-borne microbes is associated with a wide range of seemingly unrelated symptoms and a lifetime of chronic misery.
|Did you know?|
|The majority of supplements on the market are severely underdosed, providing little benefit for the end user. Because other microbes can invade immediately, antibiotics are probably a good idea for any embedded tick bite.|
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