When my kids were young, Lyme disease was just starting to move north from Connecticut and into the Hudson Valley, where my sisters lived. It was pretty unheard of up here, where winter temperatures would reliably plunge to 20 below, killing off all ticks.
When one of the kids got Lyme, and the associated Bell’s palsy, we had to convince the doctor to test for it, even after we explained we had visited Duchess County and had removed ticks from both kids. Even then, the doctor insisted on a CAT scan first to rule out a brain tumor. It was Lyme disease.
Fast forward 20 years or so. Winters are milder here in the North Country and ticks are abundant. Lyme disease, carried by the deer tick, is common and now, increasingly, other tick-borne diseases are on the rise. When that warm spell popped up a few weeks ago, the ticks woke up. A tromp through the woods with the dog was followed by a thorough tick check, and generally ended with me brushing half a dozen small black ticks of her and two or three off me. I’m glad she’s a white dog — it’s easy to see the ticks.
I must have missed one on me, because I found one embedded in my shoulder one evening. We removed it with a tool from our arsenal of tick-removers, and I forgot all about it.
A few days later I got sick, with a fever and chills, headache and flu symptoms. I was pretty mad because I’m pandemic careful. I only go to the market every thee or four weeks, I work from home, I wear a mask and wash my hands and use sanitizer if I have to make a rare trip to the bank or hardware store. How could I have gotten sick?
I talked to my doctor and she checked over my symptoms, asked about tick bites and said she’d run all the tick labs but only after ruling out COVID. It took three days to get the test and results, negative. Then I had to wait through the weekend to schedule lab tests, all the while getting sicker and sicker. I did the bloodwork a full week after symptoms began, then waited five days for most of the results to come back.
My doctor called. It wasn’t Lyme. It wasn’t mono. Blood work only indicated that I was sick. My doctor said it was probably a virus and I was likely on the mend. And I was feeling better by then. Until I got worse again.
More tests, more suppositions about what it might be when, finally, labs for the last two tick-borne infections, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, came back. And there it was: I had anaplasmosis, which can cause all of the symptoms I had, and some I didn’t.
Like most tick-borne diseases, the treatment is doxycycline. The deer tick, also called the black-legged tick, is our most common culprit and can transmit Lyme, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis and Powassan. The lone star tick, also prevalent in the Northeast, also can transmit ehrlichiosis.
I got a call from the county public health nurse, who said anaplasmosis is a reportable disease since the state tracks tick-borne illnesses. She said that warm-weather stretch brought a spike in anaplasmosis, which can cause people to be a lot sicker than I was, especially if it’s not treated quickly.
So I was happy it got cold again, knocking down the ticks. I waited until three frosty mornings in a row before taking the dog into the woods again. We enjoyed the crunch of frost underfoot and the thought of snowshoeing on those trails in a month or so.
That is, if winter behaves like it’s supposed to. But if it doesn’t, and it warms up again, watch for those ticks.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Dec. 6. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.