In this episode of the Mercy Health Medical Minute, Mike McConnell interviewed Dr. Jonathan Gully. Dr. Gully discussed the danger and treatment of tick bites and tick-borne infections.
Tick bites are bothersome but they can also be serious, especially when it comes to tick-borne infections.
Mike McConnell: We’re here talking about tick-borne infections and I want to know if there is a time of year when ticks are most active?
Dr. Jonathan Gully: There is not a time of year when ticks are most active but people do tend to be exposed to them in the summertime.
Mike McConnell: Do they hang out on leaves and try to hitch a ride as you go by?
Dr. Gully: So tall weeds and wooded areas typically are where they’re found but not always. Sometimes, people will get infections without ever going camping or spending time in the woods. In my case, when I got Lyme disease back in 2004, I was running a marathon in Columbus and didn’t run through any particularly wooded area.
What kind tick-borne infections are out there?
Mike McConnell: I’d imagine different diseases you can get from ticks are geographically specific. Around here I wouldn’t guess we get rocky mountain spotted fever.
Dr. Gully: That’s correct.
Mike McConnell: Lyme disease aside, what else could you get from a tick around here?
Dr. Gully: So Lyme disease does exist in Ohio but it’s not that common. It is named after Lyme Connecticut and is more common in places like Rhode Island or Minnesota but it does happen, people do get it in most of the states.
What do you do if you discover a tick?
Mike McConnell: So to avoid ticks, avoid those areas but if you get a tick what should you do? When I was a kid my uncle came over and heated up a nail and touched the tick with it, the idea being that the tick would pull its head out and let go.
Dr. Gully: So, that is the old fashioned way… The gentler way is to take some kind of ointment and suffocate it. So, put on the ointment and leave it on for 10 or 15 minutes and then pull the tick out. The idea is to keep the tick from spilling its guts and flushing out all of its bacteria into your skin while you take it off.
I have a few take-home points for this. One is, if you do ever get bit by a tick it’s a good idea to contact your doctor and follow CDC recommendations… But, what I really want to stress for people who don’t even know they were bitten by a tick, if you ever just start having really strange symptoms, like a fever with joint pain, I would treat you for Lyme disease with antibiotics. If you treat Lyme disease in the short term you can get rid of it pretty easily but, if you get chronic Lyme disease you might end up feeling sick for 10 years.
How common is Lyme disease?
Mike McConnell: I had a brother-in-law who was hospitalized with Lyme disease. At first, they thought it was arthritis and it turned out to be Lyme disease.
Dr. Gully: Unfortunately the tests they do are pretty unreliable so I treat based on symptoms. In the past year, I had three patients that came to me saying that they couldn’t sleep or were anxious all the time or had general pain they couldn’t place. In all of those cases I treated them for a tick-borne infection and all three got better.
Mike McConnell: Do you see a lot of cases each year?
Dr. Gully: Well there is the classic presentation of any disease, kind of like when you dissected the frog in high school biology class. You have the diagram where it is very lucid and each organ is a certain color but when you actually open up the frog everything is grey and messy. That’s how it is figuring out Lyme disease. You have the classic presentation of Lyme disease which is fever, the rash that looks like a target and joint pain. In real life that’s not always how it presents itself. One symptom is anxiety. If you have anxiety, you’re a tense person, it tends to present at seven years old. Ask anyone who has anxiety how long they’ve had anxiety and they will tell you they’ve always had it.
So this happened to a buddy of mine actually he went on a trip to Costa Rica. Which as far as I know is a hotbed for tick-borne infections. When he came back I was talking to him and he told me he hadn’t been able to sleep for about three weeks. So, he went and saw his doctor and his doctor put him on Zoloft for anxiety but, you don’t just suddenly get anxiety when you’re 32. So, I recommended he get a prescription for a three week dosage of doxycycline and he got better. My message to any listeners out there is if you’re feeling really weird ask your doctor what they think about a possible tick-borne infection.
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