Lyme disease is having a moment

Celebrity Lyme disease diagnoses have put the tick-borne illness in the limelight.

Lisa Machado 4 minute read September 10, 2020
tick on skin with rash

Celebrity stories are putting Lyme Disease in the limelight. Stock/Getty

It’s sounds awful to say, but Lyme Disease seems it be ‘in.’

Yesterday Amy Schumer took to Instagram to announce that she is currently being treated for the tick-borne disease.

Schumer is just one of a long list of celebrities to reveal their Lyme Disease diagnoses. From Kelly Osborne, Kathleen Hanna and Kris Kristofferson to Canadian stars Justin Bieber, Shania Twain and Avril Lavigne, celeb watchers have been regaled by stories of unexplained fatigue, joint pain and headaches that turned out to be the result of the hard-to-diagnose disease.

For months the Biebs was the subject of speculation that he was “on meth” before sharing his Lyme diagnosis, prompting his wife Hailey to put out a Tweet call for critics to “do their research,” and stop “belittling a disease” they know nothing about. In recent news, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid spoke about accusations that she was faking her battle with Lyme, and then came the news that her supermodel daughter Bella and son Anwar had Lyme, too.

So what’s going on?

Do disease-carrying ticks — a type of arachnid that thrives in grassy or wooded areas, and can live on animals — prefer the rich and famous? Are celebrities increasingly partying in the bush to escape the papzz? According to Vice, perhaps one reason for the swarm of Lyme diagnoses is small-town living, particularly when it comes to the Canucks — Bieber is from Stratford, Twain from Timmins, and Lavigne from Napanee. Ah, if only it were that simple. Turns out it doesn’t matter where you live — ticks love the urban life too.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 640,000 tick- and other vector-borne disease cases in the U.S. and American territories between 2004 and 2016, according to a recent report from the agency. A closer look at the numbers shows that disease cases from tick, mosquito and flea bites tripled in the U.S. over that time.The CDC recently listed Lyme Disease as one of the top animal-to-people diseases of concern in the United States, citing Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey — in that order — as the top three worst states for tick-borne illnesses.

So now that we have established that it may not make much difference where you live, let’s talk prevention. According to Health Canada, “The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten by a tick.” Um, thanks. More helpful tips include wearing light coloured long-sleeved shirts and pants if you are going to be near tall grasses, shrubs or in forests. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and your pants into your socks, wear closed-toe shoes, use bug spray with DEET and walk on clear paths.

Other tips include bathing as soon as possible after being outdoors, doing a full body tick check on yourself, children, pets and gear and putting your clothes in a dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks that may have been missed.

I found one!

If you find one on your body, the CDC recommends removing it as quickly as possible using tweezers. Basically, you want to avoid twisting the tick as it can cause the “mouth-parts to break off” and remain in your skin. If this happens, the CDC recommends removing the “parts” with the tweezers. Also, “never crush a tick with your fingers,” instead, put it in alcohol, in a sealed bag or container, wrap it tightly in tape, or flush it down the toilet. If you plan on seeing a healthcare provider, keep the tick in the container and bring it with you.

If you think you are sick

Since Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics if caught early, it’s important to be on top of symptoms, which typically occur three to 30 days after you’ve been bitten. Mild symptoms include a rash (sometimes shaped like a bull’s eye, fever and chills, while more severe symptoms — which can be experienced weeks to months after a tick bite, if untreated — could include severe headaches, facial paralysis (such as Bell’s palsy) and nervous system disorders like dizziness, mental confusion or numbness or tingling in the hands or feet. If you experience any of the above, or are concerned after a tick bite, it’s a good idea to get medical advice.

What about pets?

Pets can’t spread Lyme disease directly to humans, according to Health Canada, but they can carry infected ticks into your home or yard, making regular tick checks and quick removal important. The most common symptom of Lyme disease in pets is sore joints, and some animals may develop a fever or fatigue. If you spot these symptoms in your pet, especially after finding a tick, get in touch with your vet.

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