Lindsay Wolff has always loved the outdoors. She started mountain biking in high school. During college, she spent her summers in Colorado teaching climbing and backpacking. When she moved to Nashville for her first job, she hiked every week.
But in 2010, Lindsay’s world changed overnight. The day after a 6-mile hike, she woke up with what felt like the worst flu of her life. Extreme fatigue, body aches, and disorientation took over. She drove to the ER, where doctors told her to go home and rest.
Weeks later, she was still sick. She couldn’t work. She could barely walk. Her parents brought her home to St. Louis to recover. She was bedridden for eight months.
”I went from a normal, healthy person to being debilitated overnight,” Wolff said.
Doctors here told her she had mono — then it was chronic fatigue syndrome, then fibromyalgia. Numerous medications were pumped through her body, but they only made her feel worse. With no relief in sight, Wolff embarked on a quest to find a cure to her baffling symptoms. She saw more than 70 healthcare practitioners over 10 years.
Friends suggested that it could be Lyme disease, the bacterial infection carried by ticks. Her doctor tested her for it five times, but the results repeatedly came back negative.
In 2017, she found a Lyme specialist in Columbia, who used a more accurate test called Igenix.
“When I tested positive, my whole universe was validated,” Wolff said.
On a Better Path
Wolff continues to experience the effects of the disease, but says she is improving. She found a naturopath in Seattle who specializes in Lyme.
“Most of my therapy is herbal and detox. Every day I have to sweat or get in a sauna,” she said.
Wolff looks forward to a time when her disease goes into remission. Meanwhile, she’s slowly getting her life back. She got married in 2018 and works part time, as she doesn’t have the stamina to work all day.
“Fatigue is still a problem. I still take a nap every afternoon,” Wolff said. “My body doesn’t run a full-charge battery. I also have muscular and joint pain. Sometimes, I can’t believe my husband married me. I was such a mess. I used to not be able to walk.”
On a good day, Wolff can walk for an hour. She prefers to hike in winter, when the tick population is low, although she won’t go into deep unmanaged woods any longer.
“I’ll always be a hiker and spend time outside. Lyme cannot take that part away,” she said.
What to Know About Ticks
Ticks love wooded areas, and while they’re usually harmless, some carry bacteria that can lead to debilitating conditions such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
The latter can be deadly if not treated early with the right antibiotic. Cases have been reported throughout the US, although five states (Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) account for over 50 percent of them.
What to Do When You Find a Tick
If you see a tick burrowed into your skin or scalp, remove it immediately in case the insect is infected. The sooner you remove an infected tick, the better your recovery will be.
How do you know if a tick is infected? Experts say that if you develop a rash or experience flu-like symptoms in the next few days, you should contact a doctor right away and get started on doxycycline or amoxicillin.
Remedies like a hot match, fingernail polish, petroleum jelly, and rubbing alcohol were once thought to cause the tick to self-detach, but studies disprove that.
Instead, all you need is a pair of tweezers. (Tip: Bring tweezers on your hikes in case you find an attached tick.)
To remove a tick:
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick near its mouth parts (as close to your skin as possible);
- Pull firmly and straight out;
- Place the tick in a sealed container or bag and put in the trash;
- Wash your hands and site of the bite;
- Apply antiseptic to the bite.
Preventing Tick Bites
The best way to avoid a bacterial infection is prevention. Here are some tips from the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
- Wear tick-repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
- Spray clothing and gear with permethrin, an insecticide that kills ticks on contact. Sprays or dips are effective for two to six weeks and last through multiple washings. Insect Guard will treat your clothes if you mail them in.
- Purchase bug-repellent clothing such as BugsAway, made by ExOfficio. The brand is available locally at REI and Alpine Shop, although both stores say shipments have been limited recently.
- Wear long pants and tuck them into your shoes. Light-colored clothing and socks improve the odds of seeing ticks on clothing before they attach.
- Wear a hat. Tuck long hair under your hat.
- Walk in the center of trails to reduce contact with ticks.
- Inspect your clothing, skin, and scalp immediately after hiking or spending time in a park.
- Check inside skin folds, behind ears, the belly button, groin, hairline, and scalp. If one tick is found, search thoroughly for others.
Pets can carry ticks and develop Lyme disease, too, so make sure they’re wearing tick collars or are taking flea and tick medication.
Lyme Disease Facts
- Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the US, with more than 300,000 cases diagnosed each year, per the CDC.
- In 2017, confirmed cases were reported in every state except Oklahoma and Hawaii.
- Infection occurs most often between May and November.
- The prognosis is generally excellent when patients are treated early with appropriate antibiotics.
Author: Terri Water is a regular contributor to Terrain Magazine.