Ticks Are Back…Actually, They Never Left
Arrival of nymphs is five weeks ahead of schedule and last year’s adults are still around.
An article in the Cape Cod Times recently reported that the deer ticks have arrived – and they’ve arrived five weeks early. According to experts on the Vineyard, they never really left. This past year’s record warm temperatures has meant ticks all winter long.
Matt Poole, Edgartown Board of Health agent said that people have been finding adults all winter and now the nymphs are definitely here.
Larry Dapsis, entomologist with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension Service, told the Cape Cod Times, “About 25 percent of the nymphs collected at 14 sites on Cape Cod and the Islands were carrying Lyme disease.”
In addition to Lyme disease, deer ticks also transmit babesiosis and anaplasmosis.
Babesiosis is similar to malaria and is particularly dangerous to the elderly or people with compromised immune systems. Anaplasmosis symptoms include headache, fever, chills and malaise and in rare cases it can be fatal.
Lyme Disease is far from being a straightforward disease. The kind of bacteria that causes Lyme is called a spirochete, which is spiral in shape and has the ability to hide in cells that are more resistant to antibiotics. It can gravitate towards different parts of the body and cause heart, neurological and joint problems.
Poole and health agents from boards of health departments in all the towns have been working to create awareness about all of the Island’s tick borne illnesses with the help of a grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
“What we’ve discovered is the value of information and education,” Poole said.
Last year the Martha’s Vineyard Board of Health (MVBOH) went into the public schools and talked with the younger kids.
This year, according to Maura Valley, assistant health agent in Tisbury, they are working to try to get tick borne illness education permanently incorporated into the curriculum in grades K, 3, 6 and 10.
They are also working on getting their website updated with the most recent data and preventative measures. “We're trying to make the mvboh.org site a Vineyard specific site for credible information,” said Poole.
As always, prevention is the best practice and according to Poole, there are some new methods that can really make a difference.
One that Poole highly recommends is using either permethrin or pyrethrum. Pyrethrum is natural insecticide made from certain species of the chrysanthemum flowers and permethrin is its chemical equivalent.
Poole suggests spraying or soaking shoes that you wear while gardening or walking. For those who spend a good deal of time outdoors – whether for work or pleasure, Poole recommends the newly available tick repellant clothing from stores like REI or LL Bean.
“Here on Vineyard, people are very conscious of toxic chemicals,” said Poole, “but when you weigh balance between permethrin and Lyme disease, you might think differently. I personally don’t wear mosquito repellant, but I do wear permethrin socks. A mosquito bite is quite different then Lyme disease.”
Also worth pointing out is the misconception, according to Poole, that ticks live in tall, grassy fields. “Ticks dry out really quickly,” said Poole. “What they really like is leaf litter and shade.”
MVBOH is currently putting together a landscaping maintenance guide with instructions on how to manage leaf litter and how to make your yard a less hospitable environment for ticks.
If you do happen to find a deer tick on you, Poole recommends letting your doctor know right away. A relatively recent study has found that taking two doxycycline pills as soon as the tick is discovered will prevent you from getting Lyme.
“Many Island doctors are now prescribing doxycycline and we’re going to Grand Rounds in May in hopes that we can get more doctors to do the same,” said Poole.
A tick must be firmly attached for at least 36 hours to transmit the disease, so standby preventative measures like wearing light-colored clothing, putting clothes in the dryer for 35 minutes after walking and doing thorough tick-checks (with a magnifying glass if necessary) are also highly recommended.
Finally, if you have a pet in your house, you want to do regular checks - even if you have not been outside. Pets do transport ticks indoors to furniture and bedding. The following from the mvboh.org website is a good summary of how to do a tick check.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.