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 www.wildramblings.com in May of 2012.