It all started with a small lump behind my left ear. I noticed it when I was putting on the earphones of my Whites metal detector. It was an early July morning and I was hunting an old field where Id been fortunate to unearth a few early-19th century coins and many Colonial relics on earlier occasions.
My first thought was that the bump was a mosquito bite. After all, it was about the right size and being July it was mosquito season. The only thing that I found peculiar was that it didnt itch. However, like any normal treasure hunter anxious to get busy finding hidden things, I forgot about it and went to work sweeping the field for coins and relics.
Two months later, dizzy spells, extreme fatigue and a backache (which I can only describe as being like having an ax lodged in your spine) sent me to my doctors office. After several referrals and numerous tests, I was finally diagnosed with Lyme Disease. A deer tick had passed along the bacteria to me when it fed off my blood. Thats what the lump had been all about. The tick had probably attached itself to me as I was walking through the woods and underbrush.
Nearly invisible, several can fit inside the letter o in this magazine the tick made its way up into my hairline and behind the left ear where it fed contentedly without my knowing it.
Nature, although kind on the eyes, can be a hazardous place for treasure hunters. This two-part article series looks at four of the more common diseases you are likely to encounter while searching the hills and fields for lost treasures. More importantly, it tells you what you can do to protect yourself so that you remain healthy to dig up that gold coin in your future.
It is said that where you find old farm fields, stone walls and/or hemlock trees youll also find the tiny orange/brown-colored deer tick (Ixodes family) that causes Lyme Disease. Thats because such an environment attracts white-tailed deer which are usually infested with these nearly invisible ticks. This disease was first recognized in the United States in 1975 after researchers investigated why so many children living in and near Lyme, Connecticut, had arthritis.
Lyme Disease is caused by a spaghetti-shaped bacteria that is transmitted to humans via the bite of a deer tick. (Dont confuse a deer tick with the large, gray-colored tick you tend to find clinging to your pants after walking through tall grass.) People generally experience a red bulls-eye rash, joint pains, fever, fatigue and headaches. If it is not treated early enough, people can develop heart ailments, arthritis, and central-nervous system problems. Because Lyme Disease is commonly mistaken for other ailments, doctors have a difficult time diagnosing it. In my own case, for example, the doctor had to rule out lead poisoning, syphilis, multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, etc., before he was finally able to test for Lyme.
You are most likely to encounter deer ticks May thru August when walking through the woods or over grassy fields. The ticks search for host animals from the tips of grasses and shrubs. They transfer to the animal or person that brushes against the vegetation; the ticks have heat sensors in their front paws that alert them to the presence of a warm-blooded host. Once on you, they attach themselves to hidden hairy areas, such as your armpits and scalp.
There are several things you can do to avoid getting Lyme Disease, including:
1) Wear light-colored clothing so that the orange-brown ticks are more easily spotted.
2) Tuck your pant legs into your socks or boots and your shirt into your pants.
3) Wear a hat and a long-sleeved shirt for protection.
4) Spray insect repellant containing DEET on your clothes and on exposed skin (except your face). Avoid using 100 percent DEET products, especially on kids, since it can cause allergic reactions in some people.
5) Walk in the center of trails to avoid overhanging grass and brush that may conceal ticks.
6) Check yourself often for ticks and promptly remove any you find. Ticks need to feed on you for about 24-36 hours to transmit Lyme Disease; the sooner you find and remove them, the better off you will be.
7) Check your pets for ticks before they come indoors; deer ticks can be hiding on them and eventually transfer to you. (Note: Dogs and cats can also suffer from Lyme Disease.)
8) Wash and dry your clothes after being outdoors in brushy or wooded areas.
If you find a tick attached to your skin, use blunt-nosed tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Then pull straight back with a slow, steady force. (Try not to crush the ticks body.) Do not tug, twist, jerk or burn the tick off ,as its head will likely remain in your skin posing a danger of infection. After removing the tick, wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
In the Spring of 1993, people in the southwest United States began dying of respiratory failure caused by an unknown disease that had symptoms which mimicked the flu. In the ensuing panic, so-called disease detectives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, flocked to the area to identify the culprit and learn how it was being spread. Their finding was an interesting one. The deadly illness was being caused by a virus that was related to a group of viruses known collectively as Hantaviruses. (The name comes from the Hantaan River in Korea where the virus was first discovered.) Health officials named this new type of hantavirus the Muerto Valley virus.
Hantavirus-like illnesses have been recognized in Eurasia since the 1930's. In fact, several thousand cases were identified by English-speaking doctors in United Nations soldiers during the Korean Conflict in the 1950's.
In the United States, there are three types of hantavirus that can be found nationwide: Seoul Virus, which is carried by the Norway rat; Prospect Hill virus, which is carried by meadow voles; and the new Muerto Valley virus, which is carried by the Deer Mouse. People become infected with Hantaviruses by having direct contact with a rodents droppings, urine or saliva. The viruses can also be inhaled if the rodent droppings are disturbed; the viruses become airborne like dust particles.
For the treasure hunter, it means that its a good idea to wear rubber gloves when digging in fields and meadows where mice and voles can be found. You should also wear gloves when digging around old buildings, especially along the foundation: mice run along the foundation walls because they have poor vision. (If you have a portable blacklight, you can actually see the mices urine trail it glows when exposed to the special lighting.) For obvious reasons, avoid touching dead rodents, their nests and their droppings. With regard to the latter, mouse droppings resemble small, dark caraway seeds in shape and size.
When digging in a cellar hole, or entering an old building that has been closed-up for a long time, its recommended that you first place a filter mask over your nose and mouth. Thats because your exploratory efforts are likely to kick-up the virus, suspending it in the air. You can buy disposable masks at either your local hardware store or art- upply store for usually less than $5. Note that not all filter masks are alike; some offer more protection than others. Hence, you should read the product label to determine what protective measure it actually provides you with.
For additional protection, if you are so inclined, spray the area in the cellar hole you want to dig (or the portion of a building you want to explore) with a disinfectant such as Lysol. It will not only kill the virus, but it will also wet it down and prevent it from becoming suspended. A small can of Lysol goes for about $3.
Lyme Disease and Hantavirus are just two of the diseases you will likely be confronted with when you venture into the great outdoors in search of treasure. Next month well look at Rabies and Tetanus. Dont let this article scare you out of the woods or prevent you from searching for that elusive gold cache. Our hobby has many health benefits associated with it, including a good aerobic workout from all the walking that we do. The purpose of this article is to simply educate you of the potential dangers so that you can overcome them to find that next coin or relic.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Update on Lyme Disease, CDC Briefs (Vol. 4, No. 4/5), April-May, 1993.
Lyme Disease: Growing Threat or Growing Awareness? CDC Briefs (Vol. 5, No. 4), August, 1994.
Hantaviruses, CDC Briefs (Vol. 4, No. 6), June, 1993.
Hantavirus Infection: Southwest United States, CDC FAX Information Service, Document 310032, November 19, 1992.
Control of Communicable Disease in Man (15th Edition) edited by Abram S. Beneson. The American Public Health Association, Washington, DC, 1990.
Hantavirus, Media Fact Sheet, NH Division of Public Health Services, 1993.
Lyme Disease, Media Fact Sheet, NH Division of Public Health Services, 1993.