Fighting Ticks & Lyme Disease in Hawaii

Christa Hester
January 21, 2016

Ticks: they were vampires before vampires were cool and sparkly. The original bloodsucker, a tick is an external parasite that feeds off the blood of animals – including you. Ick!

Beside the automatic ick factor of ticks, there’s a good reason to avoid them as much as possible: While feeding, ticks transfer the bacteria they collected from feeding on other animals and pass it on to you. Depending on the type of tick that bit you, you could contract Lyme disease.

You’re probably saying, “Whoa, we’re in Hawaii! We don’t have that kind of tick here!” And you’re right; the deer tick, which passes on Lyme disease, isn’t found in Hawaii. But how many times have you gone outdoors on the Mainland or in other countries? Did you do a tick check after each and every outing?

“Thousands of people who live in Hawaii have contracted the disease away from home. When they come back, they often don’t know what’s wrong with them, which means there’s a greater risk of misdiagnosis,” said Gregg Kirk, founder of the Ticked Off Foundation. “Because there’s this misconception that Lyme disease doesn’t exist here, there are limited treatment options.”

That’s why Kirk is bringing the Ticked Off Music Fest to Hawaii this Saturday, January 23, at the Pikake Room in the Neil S. Blaisdell Center. Each festival hosts talks from local providers and features music. This Saturday’s music fest will feature roots-reggae musician Mike Love, Les Stroud from Survivorman, Mythica lead singer Melissa Cox, and Gregg Kirk from The Zen Engines. All funds from the music fest go to the Ticked Off Foundation patient fund for Lyme patients in crisis.

“About 70 percent of people who die with Lyme disease die from suicide,” Kirk said. “That’s because this disease is a debilitating one, especially if it’s not caught early on.” Kirk knows firsthand of the toll the disease takes on one’s body and mind after going undiagnosed for years. “I never got sick, never had a rash, and don’t remember when I was bitten,” he said. After years of going to doctors who couldn’t find anything wrong with him and even a few who told him to just live with the symptoms, he was tested for Lyme disease. “At that point I was just glad I wasn’t crazy,” Kirk said. “If I’d just tried to deal with the pain, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”

If you’re suffering from symptoms of Lyme disease, know that you’re not alone and there’s help. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may have the disease and check out the Ticked Off Music Fest this Saturday to learn more.

Use these tips to protect yourself from ticks:

  • Do regular tick checks, even if you’ve just been out in your yard.
  • Use bug repellents on exposed skin and clothing when outdoors.
  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Examine any clothing, gear, and pets that have been outdoors.
  • Bathe or shower within two hours of coming indoors.
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