New York State IPM Program

June 19, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Trickery

Tick Trickery

Got ticks on your mind? Your questions. Our answers:

How common are tick-borne diseases — and who is at risk?

Lyme disease is the second most common infectious disease in the entire U.S. But over 96% of all cases come from only 14 states. Now that’s scary, because New York and the Northeast are at dead center for tick trickery.

What looks like spilled ink? That’s where most ticks hang out. (CDC)

Indeed, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the entire United States — and the second disease most commonly reported to the Centers of Disease Control, aka the CDC. (It comes right after chlamydia and before gonorrhea—both sexually transmitted diseases that could strike most anywhere.)

Each year, the CDC gets reports of about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease. But most likely that’s just a fraction of the number of cases. The CDC estimates that each year between 300,000 and 400,000 people are infected with the bacteria causing Lyme — and children ages 5 to 9 have the greatest risk. Parents, check your kids for ticks every day. Make it as mandatory as brushing teeth. “Oh, they were outside for only 10 minutes” or “Oh, but we live in a big city. How could there ticks possibly be here?” — trust us, these aren’t reasons to skip.

Those numbers on the left-hand side? It’s 5-9 year-old boys who most often run into the wrong side of a tick. (CDC)

No, you don’t have to be an outdoor adventurer to be exposed to disease. People can chance upon ticks in all sorts of places. Pushing a friend on the swings, gardening, picnicking at the park, taking a shortcut through a vacant lot, raking leaves—any perfectly normal activity could put you or your kids on the wrong side of a tick.

What diseases do ticks transmit?

Lyme disease is hardly the only pathogen ticks carry. They can also carry anaplasmosis, babesiosis, erhrlichiosis, Powassan virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Borrelia miyamotoi—a bacteria related to the agent of Lyme disease. (More info: Lyme Disease by the Numbers.)

Naturally, different kinds of ticks transmit different disease-causing pathogens — and the list of tick-borne pathogens continues to grow. Plus ticks can transmit more than one pathogen at a time. Example? The blacklegged tick  (aka the deer tick) can transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis all at once. Here’s the short list:

  • Blacklegged tick: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus
  • Lone star tick: ehrlichiosis, southern tick associated rash illness (STARI), tularemia
  • American dog tick: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia

Does every tick convey disease-causing pathogens?

No. Ticks don’t share a common destiny. Not every tick carries the pathogens that make us sick. Here in the Northeast, three ticks transmit pathogens—the blacklegged, lone star and American dog ticks.

Larval ticks, the stage that hatches from eggs with only six legs (nymphs and adults have eight legs), aren’t thought to play a major role in disease. But if larval ticks take their first blood meal from an infected animal, well—they’re infected too. Once they morph into nymphs, they can transmit whatever pathogens they took on.

Note: it’s possible that Powassan virus, carried by the blacklegged tick, can be transmitted from a female to her offspring — and that larval blacklegged ticks can transmit Borrelia miyamotoi, a type of relapsing disease. And what’s a relapsing disease? It’s when signs and symptoms of disease return after it seemed the disease was gone.

Blacklegged nymphs cause the most disease—partly because

  • they’re roughly the size of a poppy seed—not easy to see, and …
  • they’re active in spring when people aren’t thinking about ticks — though it’ll be summer before symptoms show.

Some nymphs and adults never acquire pathogens. Not every tick is infected. The rate of infection differs throughout the region. No common destiny there.

If I find a tick crawling on me, am I at risk for disease? And … how do they transmit disease?

Ticks transmit pathogens only while they’re attached and feeding. So no, a tick can’t infect you while it’s still looking for a place to feed. Once it’s fed, it’ll drop right off. That said:

  • if you find a tick crawling on you, don’t squish it
  • brushing ticks off your clothing is no guarantee they’ll stay off.

But if you keep a small vial of rubbing alcohol in your backpack or bag, you can quickly kill ticks by dropping them in. And that’s one less tick in your neck of the woods.

How do they make you sick? Ticks pick up pathogens from one organism (make that the mouse rummaging around under the shrubbery) and transmit them to another (make this one your kid). Here, not for the faint of heart, is how it works:

Larval ticks slide their mouthparts into the mouse — their soon-to-be host — and begin sucking blood. (Those mouthparts might seem a poor excuse for a head, but they get the job done.) At the same time, their saliva enters that mouse’s bloodstream — and yes, the saliva might be carrying pathogens. The time required for pathogens to pass from tick to host is variable. While viruses such as Powassan virus can be transferred within minutes, bacteria appear to take longer. (Just how long is open to debate, so we won’t get involved in that one.)

Need to remove a tick? Learn how here: Its tick season. Put away the matches.

We’ve got a couple of other posts in the pipeline, so we won’t return to this riveting topic until early or mid-July. But do stay tuned.

June 8, 2018
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Tick and Mosquito Repellent Safety—for You and Yours

Tick and Mosquito Repellent Safety—for You and Yours

You might have noticed that we’re having a bit of a crisis with ticks and mosquitoes. They bite, they suck, and they can transmit pathogens to us during their feeding. One of the many things that we can do to avoid ticks and mosquitoes is to use repellents. But there are two important ideas to consider before picking a product from the shelf:

  1. Not every product has been proven effective, and
  2. The safety of a product depends on how you use it.

Product Efficacy
More than ever, an old adage reigns true: buyer beware! When it comes to tick and mosquito repellents, there are a number of products that claim to be effective—but offer no evidence or data to support the claim. This is especially true of many “natural” products with essential-oil active ingredients. Why? Products with essential-oil active ingredients don’t have to pass a scientific review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and can go to market without demonstrating that they work. These products give users a false sense of security that they are protected against biting insects when they are not. Learn more about this topic from our Tick FAQ section, What natural products can I use to repel ticks? For details on what products work, see the Insect Repellent Buying Guide from Consumer Reports

A confusing mix: some of these products can be applied to skin, others should not under any circumstance contact skin while wet. Read the label before using any pesticide product.

Product Safety and Use Restrictions: The Label Is the Law
As a pest management educator, I’ve said a million times, “the label is the law.” This is literally true—all labels of EPA registered products read, “It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”

Here is a critical distinction about the products you might see on a shelf:

  • Products with the active ingredient permethrin can actually kill ticks and mosquitoes. According to one label, “This product must not be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Under no circumstances should bare skin or clothing on the body be treated. In other words, if you’re going to use permethrin, you have to treat your clothing or gear before you intend to use it so the pesticide can dry. According to the label on one product, this may be two to four hours.
  • On the other hand, products with active ingredients DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 can be sprayed on clothing and skin to repel biting pests. These products work by masking the cues that make you smell tasty to mosquitoes and ticks. According to one label for these products, Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin… Do not use under clothing… Frequent reapplication and saturation is unnecessary for effectiveness.” 

We want you to enjoy the outdoors—and we want you to do it safely. Both types of products can be used to protect you, your friends, and families from the bite of blood-feeding organisms. To further protect health, always read and follow label instructions.

For more information:

June 1, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The low-down on ticks. Part 1A, Biology Q&A

The low-down on ticks. Part 1A, Biology Q&A

Ticked off about ticks? You are not alone. And knowing the what, where, why, etc. is critical to knowing how to deal with them. So here it is, the first in a series: the low-down on that pest we love to hate.

May you, dear reader, stay tick-free and healthy.

1. What, exactly, is a tick?

Ticks are related to mites and spiders—but not to insects. (Now don’t go worrying about spiders—in the Northeast, virtually all are common victims of common misunderstandings.) Ticks have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. All stages (well, not the eggs) feed on blood for energy to grow and later to reproduce. Larval ticks have six legs; nymphs and adults have eight.

Those things that look like antenna? Not—they’re highly adapted legs that process vital information. And that snout in the middle? Blood-sucking mouthparts. (Photo CDC)

Right now, three species are a health concern here in New York: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick, and the American dog tick.

2. What do ticks look like?

Regardless the species, unfed ticks look like flattened teardrops with eight legs. And depending on their species, life stage and sex (male versus female), they have different color patterns on their bodies. But after they’ve eaten, their abdomens (the females’ especially) can expand so much that it’s really hard to know which is which. You can get positive IDs here.

Just keep in mind that learning a tick’s identity doesn’t mean you know if it’s carrying a disease.

I wrote a sentence on my finger, period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)

As for size? Again, that depends on the species, its life stage, and whether it has fed (and for how long). For blacklegged and lone star ticks, larvae are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Nymphs? Think poppy seeds. Adults? Sesame seeds. When fully fed, adult females can be as large as a raisin.

American dog ticks, though, are a tad larger than the other two.

3. Are ticks a new problem? Why have we been hearing so much more about them lately?

Turns out ticks are nothing new. In fact, evidence suggests that ticks were carrying Lyme disease pathogens 15 to 20 million years ago (Lyme Disease’s Possible Bacterial Predecessor Found in Ancient Tick). What is new? We’re seeing far more ticks throughout the Northeast and much of North America than during any time in recorded history. And of course the more ticks in the neighborhood, the greater our risk of disease.

Why are ticks on the move? For one, (sub)urban sprawl leaves small patches of wooded areas—great habitat for mice and deer but far less welcoming to their traditional enemies—hawks or foxes, cougars or wolves. (More later on the role of mice and deer in tick-borne diseases.) In addition, a warming climate makes northern areas more hospitable for ticks.

Ah, yes. A place to call home—and nary a wolf in sight. (Photo provided.)

4. Where do ticks live? How do they find me? And where did the deer ticks go?

Blacklegged ticks are usually found in woodlots, forest edges, and groundcovers such as pachysandra or periwinkle—places where leaf litter, shrubs, and tree cover provide the moist environment they need. And how do they find us? Just as we sometimes go on quests, so too do they. Only they’re not seeking adventure or the Holy Grail, but simply a host. A host that provides the food (think blood) they need to thrive, or at least survive.

About deer ticks? Years ago, researchers thought they’d found a new species and gave it the common name “deer tick.” Turned out it was the same old blacklegged tick that’s been here since time immemorial.

No matter that these ticks lack eyes—questing ticks stand on the edge of a twig or leaf, their first pair of legs extended. Evolution endowed them with cleverly designed legs: they’ve got sensors to detect temperature, the carbon dioxide those hosts exhale, and odors or sounds specific to those hosts. When a host brushes past, they grab on tight.

The nymphs typically quest below a person’s knee-height. Because adult ticks feed on larger animals, they might quest higher up to find a host—as high as your waist-height or mine.

The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes — some still mysterious. (Photo CDC)

The lone star tick thrives in a wide range of habitats, from shady forests to sunny lawns or roadsides. Unlike the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick hustles toward its prey, even across pavement or dry sand. Other distinguishing features? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.

Last but not least—the American dog tick. Forget the woods: this tick thrives in warm, dry places—roadsides, grassy fields, scrubland and lawns. Larvae and nymphs mostly feed on small mammals, while adults climb grass, brush, or twigs to find medium-sized animals—people included. And sometimes American dog ticks could be even more aggressive. TickEncounter has reported seeing American dog ticks follow a regular source of carbon dioxide that attracted them for upward a few hundred yards to the house. And in one memorable case ticks were crawling up the outside walls toward window screens and doors. Now if that doesn’t give you the willies….

No matter which tick you might collide with—this is one party you don’t want to host.

Stay tuned for another informative post on the biology behind that pest we love to hate.

(Adapted from nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/tick-faqs#answers)

May 24, 2018
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Minimize tick risk while minimizing pesticide risk

Minimize tick risk while minimizing pesticide risk

“I already found a tick on me!” – many people across NY

Many New Yorkers still equate tick activity with summertime, but blacklegged ticks, the ones that carry Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus, and Borrelia miamyoti, are most active in the spring and fall. (They can actually be active year round if the temperature and humidity levels are just right. Thus the heavy activity on the warm days in February.)

The goal is to prevent ticks from becoming embedded in the first place. But if you do find an embedded tick, remove it properly!

And in the springtime the blacklegged tick nymph turns to thoughts of questing. And nymphs are small. Poppy seed-sized small. If you are not intentionally conducting a daily tick check, you could easily miss one. And even if you are intentionally looking, one can occasionally get through your visual defenses. Which is why I was able to take this tick removal video after finding this tiny nymph on my leg when using my fingertips to search by feel. Since Powassan virus can be transmitted after 15 minutes of the tick being embedded, the incentive for not being bitten has risen dramatically.

Which brings us to the use of clothing treatments to protect ourselves. Permethrin is a pesticide that can be applied to clothing, footwear and gear before exposure. Researchers for the Center for Disease Control recently conducted a study showing how permethrin interferes with blacklegged, American dog, and lone star ticks’ ability to move and, thus, to bite. Read about it here.

Now the easiest option is to buy pretreated clothing or have your clothes professionally treated. The TickEncounter Resource Center has an excellent section of their website about tick repellent clothes, including where to get them.

For DIYers, permethrin can be purchased at many sporting goods and big box stores as a liquid or aerosol spray. But it must be applied safely and correctly. I try not to react in horror as people tell me they will spray the clothes they are wearing just prior to walking out the door. This product must NOT be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Or when one’s husband announces that he left his newly treated clothing in the basement. (And, yes, he sprayed the clothes down there too.) Permethrin must be applied outdoors. Don’t take my word for it. This information, and more, is found on the label. Let’s take a close look at the label from a commonly found product. (Does not imply endorsement.)

The label is the law and will tell you everything you need to know about using a pesticide correctly and legally.

The label, which is vetted through the EPA and, in NY, the DEC, provides information on the following topics (with a few examples thrown in):

  • Signal Word – this is your clue to how dangerous the pesticide is. To put it simply, categories include Caution (slightly toxic), Warning (moderately toxic), and Danger (highly toxic). This formulation of permethrin is labeled Caution.
  • DIRECTIONS FOR USE – includes, but is not limited to:
    • SHAKE WELL BEFORE USING. (Emphasis theirs. It must be important!)
    • This product must not be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Under no circumstances should bare skin or clothing on the body be treated. (Emphasis also theirs.)
    • Make all applications outside.
  • STORAGE & DISPOSAL
    • Store in a cool, dry place inaccessible to children.
    • Never place unused product down any indoor or outdoor drain
  • PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS – includes “Do not use on humans.”
  • FIRST AID – in case you didn’t follow the precautionary statements.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
    • This product is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.

We hit just some of the highlights, but it is all important. The label not only provides suggestions for using the product safely – the label is the law. That too is on the label: “Buyer assumes all risks of use, storage or handling of this product not in strict accordance with directions given herewith.”

So what is one to do? Why, follow the label of course. Decide which clothes you might wear into tick infested places and “select an outdoor area protected from the wind, spray outer surfaces of clothing (while not being worn) with a slow sweeping motion to lightly moisten the surface of the fabric, holding pump at a distance of 6 to 8 inches. Treat outer surfaces of each outfit, front and back, for 30 seconds on each side and allow to dry for at least 2 hours (4 hours under humid conditions). Pay particular attention to socks, trouser cuffs, and shirt cuffs.”

Then plan for the next application. “Clothing should be retreated after six weeks or after the sixth laundering to maintain adequate protection” I both mark the day I sprayed in my calendar and schedule an appointment for six weeks later.

By the way, professionally treated clothing also has a label, often found on the hang tag when purchased. Be sure to follow those instructions carefully as well.

For more information about permethrin, visit the National Pesticide Information Center and EPA. And for more information on ticks, tick-borne diseases, why there are so many of them, and how to protect yourself, check out our new improved tick page – www.dontgettickedny.org.

April 27, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on The New Tick in Town (Part ll.)

The New Tick in Town (Part ll.)

Now for the science-y part of this post. (I suggest you re-read Part l. Can’t hurt. Might help.)

If you’ve read our other posts on the blacklegged tick (aka the deer tick), you might guess—and rightly so—that it’s the tick that’s been on our radar the longest; the one we (still) give most of our time and attention to. And all for good reason.

Sheer numbers (how much Lyme disease we’ve seen; what the co-infections are and how commonplace they are; its reputation as the “great imitator”) keep the blacklegged tick in the spotlight. Meanwhile, with the exception of Long Island, the lone star tick is rarely seen in the metro New York area and points north. But it has colonized some islands off Connecticut and established a toehold on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes, some still mysterious. (Credit CDC)

Indeed, the lone star tick’s potential for harm could, somewhere down the pike, become a force all northerners face.

And consider this: though deer serve as a great food source and taxi service for ticks, they are immune to Lyme disease. Not so with the lone star tick. Because given the right circumstances, it can kill even deer.

So … what diseases or conditions does this tick carry—and could any be fatal to people? Here’s the short list:

  • Ehrlichiosis is nasty. Upward of two percent of those who get it might die.
  • Tularemia is nasty too, though less so than ehrlichiosis.
  • Heartland virus is rare—and most people who do get it have mild symptoms; perhaps none at all. But yes, some will die.
  • Alpha-gal syndrome? Perhaps—especially if you don’t know it for what it is. While the symptoms can be frighteningly intense, not everyone reacts with that same level of intensity. Plus this syndrome’s transcontinental spread in places lacking lone star ticks leads to yet-unanswered questions.

Ouch! Lone star ticks attach quickly—and some people react quickly. Sometimes it looks like this. (Credit: Copyright © 2015 American Medical Association)

So how about STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness—can it do you in? My careful search turned up zilch, zip, zero. Doesn’t mean STARI won’t send you to an early grave. But if it could, I can’t find credentialed scientific sources to back up such a claim. You’ll be interested to know, though, that the rash STARI stands for can, on the surface of things, make you think you might have Lyme disease. And more unanswered questions: as of August 2017, the pathogen that causes STARI remains unknown.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

 

 

November 1, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

It’s (still) tick season — and will be evermore

Sorry to bring up a sore subject, but it’s still tick season. And will be all year round. What … during winter? Really? Yes. But for starters here’s your pop quiz:

A tick’s lifespan is

  • three months
  • ten months
  • twenty-four months (that is, about two years)

The best way to remove a tick is to

  • swab it with nail polish
  • hold a hot match to its behind
  • pull it straight up with fine-point tweezers

Even 15 million years ago, it was tick season. Trapped in amber, this tick carries Lyme-causing bacteria. (Photo credit Oregon State University.)

But back to our intro. Here’s the scoop: an adult female that hasn’t yet managed to grab hold of a large animal (think deer — or person) to get that all-important blood meal (can’t lay eggs without it) doesn’t want to wait around till a sunshiny summer day next year, because by then its number is up. Besides, the mice, chipmunks or birds it fed on earlier in its life cycle have only so much blood to go around. So that tick stays just below the soil where tall meadow flowers or low shrubs grow. Waiting. Waiting for a thaw barely long enough for it to scramble up one of those stems.

Waiting for the cues that tell it a warm-blooded animal is at close range. An animal that might be you.

And now for a look at our quiz. A tick’s lifespan? Your answer is (drumroll) C: upward of two years. Here’s how it works: Ticks spend a lot of time in dormancy, aka diapause. Eggs are laid in spring, tucked away out of sight. If some critter doesn’t find and eat them, they’ll hatch during summer as larval ticks (seed ticks, they’re sometimes called). Larval ticks are not infected with Lyme when they hatch — indeed, they’re pure as the fallen snow.

Meanwhile if likely hosts — those mice, chipmunks or birds — wander by, the ticks latch on. And if a host is already infected with Lyme disease or any of its nasty co-infections, those larval ticks, pure no more, are infected too.

Look close and you’ll see that spring, summer, fall, winter … every season is tick season. (Image credit Florida Dept. Health)

Larvae that make it this far morph into nymphs, and it’s diapause season again as the nymphs wait it out till the following spring. Assuming these ticks are now carriers —and about 25% will be — spring is the worst time of year for us. Because these ticks are tiny enough (the infamous poppy-seed stage) that they’re easy to overlook. If you get bit, ipso facto — you get Lyme (and quite possibly a co-infection too).

Things slack off in late summer as surviving nymphs enter a diapause that lasts till the following spring. But you can’t let down your guard, since by mid-fall through winter you’ve got those adult ticks to consider. The good thing (if “good thing” there is)? While half of these sesame seed-sized ticks are infected, they’re also easier to spot and remove.

Our second  quiz item? If any of these strike you as valuable folk wisdom, strike the valuable part and know it ain’t so. Nail polish? Matches? Don’t even think of it. Those first two items are just likely to tick that tick off — and it’ll vomit its gut contents into you in its hurry to get out. That is, if it can get out quickly; if it’s really drilled in, it has downloaded a cement-like substance to anchor itself. It takes some doing to disengage, however persuasive the nail polish, burnt match, or myriad other folklore remedies. (Twisting it is another no-no that comes to mind, mainly because someone asked me about it mid-way through this post.)

Pointy tweezers, held right against your skin and gripping the mouthparts, are the way to go. (Image credit tickencounter.org)

If you value your health, get yourself some pointy tweezers, sold for needlepoint and other crafts, and carry them with you always in your bag, backpack, or whatever you haul around. Grasp that tick as close as you can get to your skin and pull steadily. Did its mouthparts remain glued within? Not to worry — the tick will feed no more. And before too many days go by, your exfoliating skin (that’s when the top layer of skin cells drift away) will exfoliate them in turn.

With ticks, prevention can include everything from doing routine tick checks to wearing repellent clothing when you’re outdoors — regardless the season. And you can’t do much better than this for advice about dressing right.

Meanwhile here’s your catchphrase: 32, ticks on you. “32” as in 32°F. Stay watchful — and stay safe.

October 5, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Lyme Disease by the Numbers

Lyme Disease by the Numbers

By now, you’ve heard of Lyme disease. If you’re reading this in the Northeast, chances are you’ve had Lyme disease or know someone that does. And perhaps you know that Lyme disease is a topic entrenched in scientific and political controversy in terms of accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and access to insurance. Putting these larger issues aside for the moment, the intent of this post is to present data on Lyme disease and help people to better understand the risks.

What: Lyme disease is a series of symptoms that occur when our body is infected with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. In the Northeast, the only way that people and animals become infected with Lyme is when they are bitten by a blacklegged tick – sometimes called the deer tick. The complex lifecycle of the tick and how they obtain and transmit pathogens is described by TickEncounter.

Boys aged 5-9 years old have the highest confirmed number of Lyme Disease cases (Source: CDC)

Who: Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC, making it the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the US [a vector-borne disease is one transmitted through the bite of an organism such as a tick, mosquito, flea, etc.]. However, studies suggest that this number is only a fraction (about 10%) of the actual cases of Lyme disease in the US, putting the estimated number of cases between 300,000 and 400,000 each year. Based on this value, Lyme disease is the second most common infectious disease in the US, falling between two sexually transmitted diseases: Chlamydia (#1) and Gonorrhea (#3). Who is at the greatest risk of Lyme disease? Children! Especially boys aged 5 to 9 years old. Parents – check your children daily for ticks!!

Most cases of Lyme disease occur in the summer after being bitten by a spring-time nymph tick (Source: CDC)

When: Ticks can be active any day of the year when temperatures are above freezing. However, based on their lifecycle, the greatest risk of acquiring Lyme disease occurs during the spring months when nymph ticks are present, resulting in summer-time symptoms and doctor visits. Nymph ticks are about the size of a poppy seed, which makes them difficult to see. Check yourself daily for ticks, using your fingers to feel raised bumps and your eyes to notice new black marks. 

Where: While Lyme disease is regarded as the second most common infectious disease in the entire US, over 96% of all cases come from only 14 states.

Fortunately, there are steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of encountering ticks and acquiring tick-borne disease. These topics will be covered in a subsequent post.

Distribution of Lyme Disease cases in North America (Source: CDC)

Darker colors represent higher incidence of disease (Source: NYS Dept. of Health)

June 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Tick Trickery and Lyme Disease: the Great Imitator? Sometimes.

Tick Trickery and Lyme Disease: the Great Imitator? Sometimes.

Remember the days when we could play with our tykes in tall grass near a wooded hedgerow? When we could wander at will through open meadows, picking wildflowers? When we could have impromptu picnics in the shade of tall oaks and basswoods deep in wild violets and leaf litter where a park blended into a tennis court, say, or a golf course rough? (Here, “rough” is a technical term used by the golf literati.)

Those days are gone. Now people in the Northeast and upper Midwest who live near anything green also live in a world that — subjectively at least — seems dominated by ticks. Blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks) especially come to mind, but others are coming down the pike. (Lone star tick, anyone?)

The Southeast, eastern Texas, and the Pacific coast likewise see blacklegged ticks setting up shop.

Now — and remember this before you freak out — by no means does every tick vector Lyme disease or any of its coinfections, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have a bountiful supply of carefully researched  information on these diseases.

CDC and NIH also keep tabs on long-term effects of Lyme — for instance, complications  like Lyme carditis and Lyme encephalopathy — that are important to understand.

And because Lyme can also mimic a considerable range of diseases — many less than pleasant — NIH and PubMed (the website is admittedly a bit of a slog) fund a considerable amount of research on these sorts of things.

Researchers might find, for instance, that what appeared to be ALS was actually  Lyme — for this patient, surely an enormous relief. A course of antibiotics and it was over. But if you find websites that link Lyme with upward of 300 diseases, best be skeptical until you can confirm the  science behind the claims that interest you most.

So let’s circle back to where we began.  Yes, you can still get your fill of nature. You can still hang out in your yard. You just need to know some basics. Prevention, in a word. That IPM mantra.

Prevent — well, most of us especially want to know how to keep those little buggers off us. So … how then? Well, consider the permethrin route. Permethrin is synthesized from a compound — pyrethrin — found in the seed cases of chrysanthemums. (Know that many plants include toxins to a lesser or greater degree — it’s the nature of nature. But that’s a whole other post.)

So take a hike over to Tick Encounter and learn all about treating your clothes, your shoes, whatever, with permethrin. Other search terms for permethrin, whether at Tick Encounter or elsewhere, might include “treat backpacks, tents, ground cloths …” You get the idea. But please — keep your antennae tuned for potentially bogus claims.

Want to learn everything you can about the ecology and biology behind ticks and Lyme disease? The Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies is where you belong.

And if you’re perplexed by where “blacklegged tick” comes from when “deer tick” seemed to say it all — well, it’s worth knowing that deer aren’t the reservoir hosts; they don’t carry Lyme. Essentially it was a case of mistaken identity. Back in the day, when Lyme first erupted, researchers thought they’d discovered a tick new to North America; its common name became “deer tick.” A few years later scientists discovered that this deer tick was none other than the already-known blacklegged tick. There you have it and so it remains.

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