Misinformation, Employers and Tick Borne Disease

I don’t have much brain power for this post. Forgive me while I try and muddle through. It is close to a full moon, which can exacerbate my symptoms and I am not having a good day. There are several partial posts in my “drafts” folder I have not managed to complete. But I fear I will neglect to ever share this post if I don’t do it now.

I haven’t posted because I haven’t had the brain power to do it. I have been busy with work responsibilities, and as it is spring time, so I have also been busy trying to get my vegetable garden planted in between the rainstorms. But, I still check in online and try and read the new articles that come out. Often, I find that the misinformation in these articles is so wrong that I feel the need to comment. Hopefully soon I will create more of a social media presence for my little blog. And maybe it will develop a small following. In the meantime, I am furiously trying to send emails, and or to comment, simply as myself. However, I have never received a response. I feel a bit like a chicken kicking the pen door trying to get out into the yard to eat all the tasty bugs. Nobody is listening and the terrible information continues to spread.

This morning, I found an article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, from June 6, 2017 titled, “Business Workshop: Why employers should take Lyme Disease Seriously. You can read it at http://www.post-gazette.com/business/healthcare-business/2017/06/06/Business-Workshop-Why-employers-should-take-Lyme-disease-seriously/stories/201706060001


The article discusses the risks to employees, and mentions some reasons why employers should worry about how these risks could affect them. I thought this would be a good piece. Luckily, I work for an amazing organization who has been as understanding as they possibly can be during my long long illness. But, previously, I held a second job working retail part time. I kept my employer informed of my illness and my endless saga of Doctor’s appointments etc. They wrote me up for missing too much work. I was going to quit but instead was urged by human resources manager to take a 3 month leave of absence instead in the hopes I could be well enough to return. I was not well enough and did not return. So I was a bit intrigued when I clicked the link. However, I quickly found that, as is too often the case with stories regarding tick borne disease, it was full of inaccuracies.

It begins, in the second paragraph, by stating “More than ever, employees who work outdoors — such as utility line workers, construction contractors, surveyors and landscapers, as well as office workers who spend off-hours outside — have a greater chance of coming in contact with a tick.”

This is one of the terrible fallacies that I often find in articles regarding ticks. The idea that only those who work outside or spend lots of time outdoors for recreation have to be concerned with tick borne disease. That is simply incorrect. It does not match up to the science or to the reality of my own struggle with tick borne diseases at all.

In fact, in an interview for NPR’s Health Shots in March of 2014, CDC Epedimiologist Christine Keugeler stated, “on the east coast, most people catch Lyme right around their homes, not just when hiking or camping. People may be putting themselves at risk everyday without knowing it.”

Research done at Yale by Durland Fish indicates that the “primary ecological risk factor in the Lyme disease epidemic is the number of infected nymphs within areas people use recreationally or domestically from late spring to mid summer.”  Domestically. This means your chance of contracting a tick borne disease is just as great in and around your home as it is when out recreating in the outdoors. Yet, the very real risk of contracting tick borne disease(s) in and around one’s home is almost never mentioned. We should be warning people of this equal danger in domestic locations. People should be given a chance to have the proper information to properly protect themselves from this ever increasing epidemic. Not mis-information that is not based on fact.

The national Parks Service’s integrated pest management model for employees further concretes this point when it states “deer ticks prefer heavily forested or dense bushy areas and edge vegetation but not open areas. An exception to this occurs in Upstate New York where the species is found on well maintained lawns in residential areas.” The manual goes onto warn that “fumigation does not work well in buildings because ticks can readily re-enter through doorways or windows.” Yet according to this article and so many other flawed warnings, we are told we only need to worry when walking in the woods. The reality for myself and other New Yorkers is we can find them right in the middle of our well manicured lawn. The reality for people everywhere, but especially on the east coast is that we can find ticks in our home just as often as we can find them if we work or play outside.
I never contracted a tick borne disease despite quite a bit of outdoor recreation in these same woods where I now live. But it wasn’t until I moved here and the ticks were even in my home, biting me when I was sleeping that I contracted multiple tick borne diseases. According to this article, and countless others, I shouldn’t have had to worry in my home.
The truly sad reality is that I know people who are choosing to remain indoors because of stories like these, or choosing to keep their kids indoors. Skipping that hike or camping trip or even not doing the gardening they love because the very real fear of the ticks keeps them indoors.  How sad when the truth is that they are in just as much anger in their homes where they believe they are safe.  The reality is that employers should be concerned about all of their employees in tick borne areas. Not just those who are employed outdoors.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette article also states “On average, ticks must remain attached for 36-48 hours before they can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.” This is terribly incorrect. This fact may have been correct in my own childhood, when people barely saw ticks in these woods, it may have been true when we only had to worry about Lyme disease.  Perhaps before the ticks had adapted to thrive while we did nothing to stop them, but it is no longer true now. The ticks are ever changing and adapting to always elude our defenses.

My county health department, in particular, is notoriously bad about the way it almost completely ignores tick borne disease despite being an endemic county. Yet even they do not try to spread this ridiculous, dangerous and terribly outdated fallacy that it takes 36-48 hours for a tick to transmit disease to a human. Regarding Transmission times,  in their “Be Tick Free Ulster County” publication, lists the following transmission times:

Powassan Virus: 15 minutes
Anaplasmosis: 12 hours
Ehrlichiosis: 36 hours
Babesiosis: 24 hours
Lyme Disease: 36 hours

They did not mention a transmission time for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. However, it is common knowledge, and has been widely studied, that the Transmission time for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is 4-6 hours.

You do not have 36-48 hours to find an attached tick before you are at risk for disease. Now, it can happen in as little as 15 minutes!!!! The lack of information on this very real danger, in such a short time, is particularly dangerous in endemic areas like mine where Powassan Virus is on the rise. Here in the Hudson Valley of New York, 6% of deer ticks tested for Powassan test positive. To tell people they have 36-48 hours instead of the actual 15 minutes is endangering so many lives. And incorrect reporting of this nature needs to stop. Give people the truth and let them empower themselves with that knowledge.

Incidentally, when I found this article 3 days after it was published, I wrote a fairly direct email with just a few of the facts mentioned above and emailed it to the author at the address listed in the article. The address is invalid and my message could not be sent.

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