Is It COVID-19, Influenza or Tick-borne Diseases? Oh My!

After a relatively quiet summer for tick bites due to the heat and dry weather, the calls and emails have started to increase.

If we weren’t all stressed and confused already, we are now heading into a season with the potential for COVID-19, the flu, and/or tick-borne diseases. There is also nothing to prevent a combination of two or more!

With a few overlapping symptoms it can be problematic to obtain a quick diagnosis so you need to educate yourself a bit on the differences, and the similarities. There is a lot of information available, but not all sites are created equal, so do your research.

First of all, I would like thank all those doing your part in keeping our Nova Scotia COVID-19 numbers down. I see the masks, the hand sanitizing and social distancing taking place all over the province. On a positive note, since both Influenza and COVID-19 are defined as contagious respiratory illnesses, we should be able to keep the flu numbers down this year as well if everyone continues to do their part. Here’s hoping anyway!

Rather than list all the similarities between the three main illnesses, I will list some of the differences, in an effort to help direct people towards the correct diagnosis in a more timely manner.

Lyme:  Signs of early stage Lyme can include an erythema migrans (EM) rash; however, only about 80% will get a rash and many will not see it due to it’s location or the person’s skin colour. According to the CDC, an EM rash gradually expands over several days and may feel warm to the touch, but is rarely itchy or painful. As the EM rash expands, it may have central clearing, which might end up looking like a bull’s eye. However, only a small percentage of EM rashes will look like a bull’s-eye. Other types of EM rashes are more common. 

Other early symptoms that differ from COVID-19 and the flu could be swollen lymph nodes, or neck and joint pain. According to the book “Conquering Lyme Disease” by researchers at the Columbia University Medical Centre “Flu-like symptoms in the absence of cough, runny nose, vomiting, or diarrhea, should raise suspicion for possible Lyme disease.”

COVID-19 and Influenza (flu): As mentioned above, and according to the CDC, both COVID-19 and influenza are contagious respiratory illnesses, so defining symptoms are most often respiratory, with a cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. A sudden change in, or loss of, taste or smell can be a symptom of COVID-19 which is generally not seen in the flu or Lyme. 

As you can see from the above, there can be quite a bit of difficulty in quickly determining which of the three that you may be dealing with as symptoms can differ from person to person. Fortunately, testing for COVID-19 is fairly quick. However, testing for Lyme is problematic in the early stage as it can take several weeks for the antibodies to build enough to show up in a test.

Ensuring that you wear your mask; undertake proper hand washing measures, which is better than hand sanitizer; and ensuring that you socially distance in situations where there are people not in your bubble; should help you to reduce your risk of both COVID-19 and Influenza.

Since Lyme is a bacterial infection, generally caused by the bite of an infected tick, which can be found anywhere in the province, you should undertake different precautions. Three that I highly recommend are to stay out of tall grasses; shower shortly after getting home; and undertake a thorough tick check, especially in warm, moist areas. However, there are a number of other things you can also do to reduce your chances of getting bitten by a tick, such as wearing permethrin-treated clothes; tucking your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants; wearing light coloured clothes so that you can spot any ticks before they get to your skin; carrying a lint removal brush to roll over your clothes while outside; etc. Do your research and find what works best for you and your lifestyle. You can also undertake some changes to your landscaping in an effort to reduce the number of ticks that are in your yard.

To add to the problem with tick bites is the fact that a number of illnesses have been found in ticks in Nova Scotia and there is a chance that more than, or something other than, Lyme can be transmitted. Since very little is known at this time about these potential co-infections, prevention is key!

Here are a few helpful sites to obtain additional information on your search for answers:

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about Lyme and Tick-borne diseases and I will try to help out any way that I can.

Stay safe!