Tick Talk

By Robin Sweetser

This is the season for ticks! Prevent Lyme disease by keeping yourself tick-safe with these precautions. We welcome your tips, too!

As many as 300,000 people may be diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and skin rash. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

It is a regional affliction with 95% of the cases occurring in 14 states in the Upper Midwest, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic but the only state that has had no reports of Lyme disease is Hawaii. Lyme disease is most common in children 5 to 15 years old and adults 40 to 60 years of age and risk of infection is greatest from May to August.

What Is Lyme Disease?

An infected tick transmits the spiral-shaped bacterium called a spirochete to us through a bite. Because of the spirochete’s shape it is able to corkscrew its way from the bloodstream into soft tissue, tendons, joints, and bones. Lyme disease is hard to diagnose because so many of its symptoms—such as fever, chills, sore joints, headaches, and exhaustion—mimic other diseases. There is some controversy about how long the tick needs to be embedded to transmit the disease. The CDC says 24 hours but some doctors claim only four hours or less will do it.

The black-legged tick is a tiny thing, much smaller than a dog tick, and at the nymph stage it is even smaller—about the size of a poppy seed and translucent. Since the nymphs are so hard to see they can latch on to us unnoticed. Normally they feed on mice, deer, and birds but any warm body will do.

The black-legged tick has a two year life cycle. Adults feed on large animals like deer, mate, and lay eggs in the soil in fall and early spring. These eggs hatch into larvae which feed on mice, birds, and people until they become adults in the fall and start the cycle all over again.

Ticks are highly active in the early spring and again in the fall. They are found in the woods, in woodpiles, meadows, tall grass, and near the water’s edge—all the places where we are busy working and playing.

What’s a Gardener To Do?

There are several ways to keep ourselves tick-safe. Take the following precautions when working outside:

  • Stay out of tick-infested areas such as overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter.
  • Shower after working outside to wash off unattached ticks.
  • Check yourself, the kids, and pets thoroughly for ticks on days you go outdoors.
  • When outdoors, wear protective clothing. Tall rubber boots are too slippery for ticks. Wear long sleeves and long pants to keep them off your skin. Tuck your pants into your socks to keep ticks from crawling up your leg.
  • Use a repellent that contains at least 20-30% DEET or wear treated clothing.

For more information on ticks and Lyme disease visit the American Lyme Disease Foundation website at www.aldf.com.

Also, see our article on how to remove ticks safely.

Do you deal with ticks? How do you keep yourself tick-free? Please share with the Almanac community!

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