Guerrilla Malady-Lyme Disease

There are an abundant number of benefits in my occupation as a field ecologist. Working frequently in the outdoors, studying natural history in a natural setting and learning about all of the miracles our planet holds, breath taking scenery, and becoming familiar with a variety of ecosystems are among the positive parts of my job. But there are some negatives. Difficult clients, overbearing permit granting authorities, and bugs. Now, don’t get me wrong. Insects and their behavior are one of the miracles in the natural world, but part of their survival tool is sheer numbers and their ability to overwhelm their host. Of course I use the term host loosely when it is me that is the center of attention.

To make matters even more difficult my recreational time is mostly spent outdoors. I love to fish, take photos of all things natural, and identify plants. I also garden, do yard work, and cook outdoors in nice weather. Like many of us I am all about the outdoors. And, it seems, bugs are all about me.

Many insects have heat sensors that help them to locate a host. Big people give off more heat because they have more surface area. At six feet three inches and weighing in at two hundred and seventy pounds I could be considered an official bug magnet. I’m the guy in a crowd of twenty people who has the cloud of bugs circling his head. Yep, that’s me. I used to work with a fellow, my former business partner Ward, that liked to do field work with me. He used to say that no bug repellant was necessary if I was in the vicinity. Looking for mosquitoes? Take a glance at Bill. Wondering where the black flies went? They’re hovering around Mr. Lattrell? Want to see a deer tick? Wild Bill probably has about a hundred on him and we’ve only been in the bush for about ten minutes! It seems to be my cross to bear. That’s OK! As far as I’m concerned it’s better than being indoors for even a few minutes.

In the last two days I’ve gotten two deer tick bites after field work. Despite spraying my clothes with DEET, tucking my pants into my socks, and doing everything except attempting to navigate swamps in a suit of armor deer ticks still find me attractive. It is pure foolishness to think that this isn’t absolutely ordinary for me. Even though I jump out of my clothes as soon as I get home, throw them into a washing machine, inspect my body, take a bath, and have my wife inspect me again I always seem to end up with a nice attached tick who seems to be enjoying my ample vascular supply. Really, I don’t mind sharing, but this gets to be a little much!

Most of my friends know I’ve had Lyme disease at least ten times. One bout turned into a chronic case that lasted more than seven years. It was the most difficult experience of my life; joint pain, neuropathy, memory loss, chronic tiredness, jabbing nerve pain with no warning in my feet, and constant spots in front of my eyes that looked like, well, bugs. Now that’s insult added to injury! I was on and off antibiotics (mostly on) for the duration. I finally realized that this treatment wasn’t working and sought counsel with a homeopathic expert. She told me the cure would take a year. And she was right. Eleven months after starting treatment I was much better. For the most part symptom free. There will always be some lingering symptoms. That’s part of the disease. It has now been a second year since treatment and I’m still doing well (although I’ve used antibiotics to treat new tick bites) and I have even regained some of my lost memory. What was I writing about? Oh yes, bugs and ticks!

I have to admit as a student of natural systems I am fascinated by this new malady Lyme disease. It is just now being understood. This understanding will hopefully lead to the successful treatment of the disease; an illness that has severely impacted hundreds of thousands of people.

Lyme disease is actually a spirochete caused disease that is introduced to hosts by primarily deer ticks. A spirochete is a spiral shaped microscopic sized bacteria. They are very mobile. The best known disease caused by a spirochete is syphilis. If this type of bacteria goes unchecked the results can be grave. The Lyme disease spirochete is a miracle of nature. It has, perhaps, some of the best survival mechanisms known to science. These bacterium take three forms. The spirochetes introduced into the body through fluid contact with a deer tick is relatively easy to eliminate with antibiotics, primarily something in the tetracycline family unless your allergic to tetracyclines like I am. But leave this bacteria to its own devices and it has strategies to make the host a permanent environment. The bacteria can morph into two other forms, both a survival mechanism. A second form of this bacteria is referred to as Cell Wall Deficient or CWD. In this form our immune systems cannot detect the bacteria easily. It is like a form of bacteria camouflage. As someone who uses camouflage on a regular basis I know how effective it can be. In this form it is capable of intracellular infection, worse it is capable of converting Vitamin D to an immunosuppressive hormone known as 1,25-D. In other words, in this form the bacterium can take on an offensive position with our immunosuppressant system. CWD allows the bacterium to clump together in dense colonies in deep tissue layers and nerves where it may be difficult to contact with natural immune systems or antibiotics. In this form the disease is often misdiagnosed as an autoimmune disorder or other serious malady and treated incorrectly. Like a buried fortress it is nearly undetectable. In western medicine it is best battled with a specific treatment referred to as the Marshall Protocol which is the preferred treatment for some autoimmune disorders and chronic fatigue syndrome. The third form of this bacteria is referred to as a cyst. In this state the bacteria is dormant and not mobile. It can withstand the harshest of environments created by antibiotics, ph changes, temperature variation, and other challenging conditions. It is thought to be responsible for Lyme disease relapses as it can persist, without symptoms, for many years. This form of the bacteria redevelops back into the full blown spirochete when conditions are favorable, often after an antibiotic regimen has wiped out the spirochete form of this disease.

It is apparent to me that this disease has learned to outwit modern medicine. It has evolved rapidly to avoid detection and treatment. It is a guerrilla bacteria that has learned how to not only fight back but build undetectable hideaways for future surprise attacks. And although I wish that I was never an environment for these nasty bacterium I have to admire this miracle of evolution. I find it both wonderful and terribly frightening.

Today I will wander into the woods. There will be ample black flies. In the late afternoon the mosquitoes will make their presence known. But those ticks, hanging on branches and leaves just waiting for me to come in contact so I can be their host, are not only a major concern but wonderfully miraculous.

Perhaps a miracle I could do without considering those cysts still might be dormant in my body.

Written for in May of 2012.

  • Emily B


    I know you’re a tough guy, but your Lyme disease episodes sound like a major pain. You attitude toward these guerrilla bugs, however, is inspiring. I can’t imagine myself not getting out into the natural world, but…bugs definitely are a bother. If I experienced everything you did, getting out into the woods would probably require a bit more will!

    That being said, I was just wondering about your recent silence in the blogosphere, as I hadn’t had anything from Wild Ramblings pop up in my reader for a while. But now I see that you’ve been posting this whole time. Something in my reader must be off and I will check it pronto. I’m now off to read a few more recent posts. :)

  • Wild_Bill

     Hi Emily!  I’ve been around and have missed your comments.  My wife tells me that I might be more stubborn than tough, and truth be told she is absolutely correct.  Giving up is just not in my nature. 

    You know, life has its ups and downs.  When I look at what other people on this planet must endure it makes any complaint I have rather trivial.  I am so lucky.  I have a wonderful family.  I have the outdoors and my adventures.  I have my hounds that I love to pieces.  And I have friends, and strangely though we’ve never met, I count you among them.  Thank you for your kind words.

  • Emily B

    I feel the same way, Bill. So glad we’ve connected!

  • Sandy

    Lyme Disease is a scary thing. I have had a couple tests, which proved to be negative, but now I am wondering if I am in your number two category.  Only time will tell, I guess. 

    So far this season, I have only experienced black flies one day, and no mosquitos at all. But, the ticks have them bad  here since April. Does eating garlic or mint do anything for you? Supposedly, both may repel  ticks from a person’s skin.  I think I will try mint first, it smells a bit better.

  • Wild_Bill

     Sandy, the tests do not work for many people.  They are inaccurate and many knowledgeable physicians believe that only a clinical diagnosis can tell, for sure, if you have the disease or not.  This is nothing to fool around with, it can be crippling.  Please find someone who is a true expert (there area lot of MD’s who claim to be and are not) and ask them to do a clinical diagnosis along with some advanced testing.  The preliminary test isn’t worth the vile that holds the blood you sent in.

    Given the amount of garlic I eat my only conclusion is that they must love it.  Mint, I’m not sure about but it can’t hurt to try it!

  • Montucky

    Good information on Lyme disease! I am constantly bringing home ticks this time of year, although usually wood ticks not deer ticks and for some reason I’m very seldom bitten. I was concerned about Lyme but several years ago my doctor said there have been no incidences of it in this region. Still…

    Now take mosquitos. They are big and voracious already this year and I have it from a good source that the Fish and Wildlife people are proposing an archery season on them this year.

  • Barbara

    Wonderful post Bill – and excellent information as Montucky says. So far I have only seen one tick on one of my dogs – but there is always a next time. Hopefully I don’t get bitten – but it’s the blackflies who are chasing me now. So allergic – but hard not to be outside when it’s so beautiful… 

  • Teresa Evangeline

    Last year, there were deer ticks everywhere, but I also played hostess to a small herd of deer that bedded down in my yard regularly. This year, perhaps due to Buddy’s presence, I’ve seen them far less frequently, and I have yet to see a deer tick. These things can go in cycles so perhaps that’s the explanation. As far as mosquitoes, the season hasn’t started yet, but the recent rain could change all that. I would gladly relinquish my hosting duties.

    I always check Buddy thoroughly for ticks, but he’s not as good at checking me. He’s all paws. :)

    I was just talking to a friend in Utah last night who is camping up near Cedar Mesa and had two bars on his cellphone, so he called to rub it in, affectionately, I’m sure, and we talked about our encounters with scorpions and centipedes. I told him I’d rather be able to go inside and get out of mosquito range, for the most part, than wonder when a scorpion or centipede was going to show up. I hope he enjoyed his campfire and sleeping under the stars.  :)

    Before you go outside say, I relinquish my hosting duties, I relinquish my hosting duties. Or something like that.

    Is that last photos of ferns getting ready to unfurl, or?

  • Wild_Bill

    High deer populations can certainly bring a lot of deer ticks into a particular area.  But the critical host is white footed mice.  When these small rodents populations drop the deer tick populations seems to go down.  For instance we had a peak crop acorn year two years ago.  Due to the more than ample amount of forage the mouse population sky rocketed and so did the deer tick population resulting in more Lyme disease cases!

    Mosquitoes carry both encephalitis and West Nile virus in the Northeast, each no laughing matter.  Still, I don’t worry about these too often as I offer my blood to the mosquito gods.

    Buddy will learn to check you for ticks but he will have to use his tongue.  My bloodhounds always want to smell my tick bites and lick them.  I’m not sure what that’s about.

    The last photo is an erupting cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).  They are beautiful even before they foliate!

  • Wild_Bill

     For some reason Ontario doesn’t have an overwhelming population of deer ticks.  I’ve often wondered why some areas where there is ample opportunity have avoided this undesirable pest and disease.  Our black fly population is a little low due the stream disturbance from Irene at the end of last summer, so that’s good as far as not getting bug bites; might be a bit hard on the trout though!

    My Dad was allergic to black fly bites.  When bitten on the face his head would swell up to the size of a basketball!

  • Wild_Bill

     Deer ticks are slowly migrating west, although your harsh winters might prove to keep them at bay.  One theory is that climate change has allowed their populations to erupt.  But that’s totally unproven.  Mosquitoes can be every bit as dangerous as ticks.  Equine encephalitis comes to mind!

  • Annie

    This article is very timely since I just found my first tick of the season on my neck Friday after monitoring duck boxes. Unlike you I am very lucky when it comes to both mosquitoes and ticks. They don’t seem to like me that much which is a blessing. But, every once in a while I do find a tick wandering on me or feel the bite of a mosquito. I like you love to be outdoors and have developed the habit of taking off my clothes and putting them in the washer and then heading to the shower for a good scrubbing after being out in tall grass areas. Here in the west ticks are not as prone to carry Lyme disease but there have been cases so it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Mosquitoes here around the valley’s rivers and marshes are the bigger problem for most folks.

    My duck box partner, who is more prone to ticks and poison oak than I, were talking yesterday as to what the purpose of ticks is. There must be a reason they are here .

    Like Emily B.  I also had been wondering about your recent lack of postings as I hadn’t had anything from Wild Ramblings pop up in Google Reader for weeks. But  yesterday there were 4 articles. Wonder what was going on. Now time to catch up on your musings.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    Well, that might explain things better, as the mouse population is way down this year compared to the previous one. As far as the dogs licking your bites, I have heard that dogs have healing properties in their saliva which is why they always lick their wounds. They probably believe they are helping you with yours!  And maybe they are!

  • Wild_Bill

     Lots of folks have wondered why the automatic reader’s weren’t working.  I have no explanation.  However, I did note a lot less comments in this period and wondered what was going on.  But thanks, as always for reading!

    The purpose of ticks is to survive.  It has nothing to do with human endeavors or observations.  They serve their own purpose, much like humans.  If we were on the outside looking in we might wonder what in God’s green earth is the value of homo sapien!

  • Wild_Bill

     Dogs do have healing properties in their saliva.  As someone who gets countless tears on my legs during field work from rose, blackberries, greenbrier, hawthorne, and barberry my legs are often a bloody mess.  I had a MD tell me to keep my dogs away from them because I could get a major infection.  I laughed.  She told me that because I told her that Cooper always was licking my legs.  Soon after she warned me I had him only lick my right leg but did not let him lick my left leg.  Guess what?  The right leg healed in a week and a half.  The left leg took a month.

  • Guy

    Hi Bill

    This sounds very grueling as as far as I know Lyme disease is not found in Alberta or Saskatchewan at present although I would not be surprised to see it occur there in the future. Thanks for an informative post and all the best.


  • Wild_Bill

     As long as it stays good and cold you should be safe in your region.  I’m fine but there are many victims of this disease who suffer everyday.

  • Wendysarno

    Fascinating explanation of Lyme disease and the science of it. There is another tick causing new problems. The Lone Star tick common in the southeast U.S. About six years ago I developed a sudden allergy to red meat. I get an anaphylactic reaction: hives, shortness of breath. It took some looking to discover the research being done at the University of Virginia connecting this adult onset allergy to the Lone Star Tick. I can’t explain the science of this but I am convinced as I have had occasional tick bites over the years. This can get worse over time and more so with subsequent tick bites. So I have given up all red meat but not roaming around in tick country. I won’t let those little buggers keep me from my delicious woodlands. Glad to know you are feeling better, Bill.

  • Wild_Bill

     Ticks can be dangerous.  When I was living in my tipi in the 70′s I contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, evidently from a tick bite.  There was two cases in New England that year and I was one of them.  What were the odds?  If I were trying to win the lottery I’m sure no winning would be forth coming, but a strange disease, no problem.

    Although I am a red meat eater, venison that I harvest primarily, you are probably better off not eating most red meats.  Could be a blessing in disguise.  When I got my female bloodhound years ago (she came from the Arkansas/Oklahoma border) her ears were covered with lone star ticks.  I felt so bad for her and immediately pulled them all out and took her to the vet.  She’s OK.

  • Barb

    I learned something from your post Bill. I don’t think there are ticks at high altitude, but we hiked at about 7,000′ a few weeks ago and on the way back home in the car, I saw one crawling up my arm. Hopefully, it didn’t have a chance to bite me. Keep well and keep checking for those buggers! Barb

  • Wild_Bill

     There are ticks at high altitude, particularly the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick goes quite high, so be careful.  I remember getting a wood tick on me in the 70′s high in the Rocky Mountains. 

  • Al

    I know they’re an important part of the ecosystem but I still don’t like ticks and mosquitoes. But I’m lucky as I rarely get bitten. Good luck!

  • Ratty

    This almost makes me afraid to go back out, but nothing can ever scare me that bad. It does remind me to take as many precautions as I can though.

  • Wild_Bill

     You had more of a chance of being bitten by a deer tick when you were in Michigan.  Still, check your clothing often, wear light clothing so you can see the ticks, tuck your pants into your socks, take off your clothes when you get home and check yourself, and wash and dry your clothes if you think you are in an area infested by ticks. 

    I know you’ll be out there Ratty, just be careful.

  • Wild_Bill

    Not many deer ticks where you live Al, but you do have the Rocky Mountain Wood tick, so still be careful!

  • shoreacres

    I’m so glad to see that others have gotten your postings late, too! I just decided to come over and look and couldn’t believe all the entries.

    This one’s important – I have a friend who lives in Virginia who thinks she may have been bitten by a tick, and who’s trying to learn all she can. She is under a doctor’s care, and I think on antibiotics “just in case”. She has other health problems, and they don’t want to take a chance.

    Mosquitos are my problem right now. I’m not fussing too much – we had a reprieve last year, but only because of the drought. If mosquitos are the price of rainfall, so be it. They’re generally not so bad on the docks, but they can cluster in the wind shadows on the boats and stumbling across them really can – uh – give you a buzz. ;)

  • Wild_Bill

     I have no idea why readers weren’t getting notification of my posts, but now most are so let’s hope everyone has time to catch up. 

    It is wise to use a preventative approach to Lyme disease, given it has the potential to be so serious. 

    Mosquitoes, blackflies, ticks, etc.  are a fact of life.  Can’t live them, can’t live without them!

  • Wild_Bill

     I have no idea why readers weren’t getting notification of my posts, but now most are so let’s hope everyone has time to catch up. 

    It is wise to use a preventative approach to Lyme disease, given it has the potential to be so serious. 

    Mosquitoes, blackflies, ticks, etc.  are a fact of life.  Can’t live them, can’t live without them!

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