New York State IPM Program

October 10, 2017
by Matt Frye
Comments Off on Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

Steer Clear of Ticks and the Diseases They Carry — the IPM Way

These days if you live near anything green — a suburban development, however humble or high-class; a neighborhood park where shrubs and meadow flowers grow — best you’d read up on ticks, be they black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks) or lone-star ticks (so named for the silvery white dot on the female’s back). While you’re at it, read up on Lyme disease and its suite of co-infections, some nastier even than Lyme.

And know this: no magic spray or treatment will eliminate ticks.

Researchers are investigating area-wide tick management options (The Tick Project) and working to understand how habitat management (The Tick Management Handbook; Japanese Barberry Control Methods) and host management (mice, deer) affect tick populations. But it’s up to you to protect yourself — knowing that prevention is the best cure.

  1. Wear tick-killing clothing. Buy over-the-counter permethrin spray and spray it on your clothing and gear. Used according to the label, permethrin binds to the material and can kill ticks, mosquitoes and other pests following a lethal exposure. Do-it-yourself treatments can remain effective for up to seven washes. Also consider buying pretreated cloths or sending your outdoor socks, pants, and shirts for professional treatments. These can be protected for up to 70 washes.

    Follow label instructions for do-it-yourself clothing treatments.

  2. Use repellants. DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 all repel ticks. The percentage of active ingredient on the label indicates how long that product will be active in the field. For more on choosing the right repellant see our previous post, “Understanding over-the-counter sprays for mosquitoes and ticks” (June 2, 2015) and this guide from Consumers Reports.
  3. Ticks wait for a passing host on vegetation or in leaf litter. Staying on trails can reduce your exposure to ticks.

    Recognize and avoid tick habitat.Tick species differ in where they prefer to hang out. The blacklegged tick (transmits Lyme disease) is found at adult knee-height and below in wooded or brushy areas. When hiking, stay on the trail and away from these areas. If you’ll be in tick habitat, take precautions by wearing long pants tucked into your socks and a light-colored shirt tucked into pants. These steps make it more difficult for ticks to get to your skin. If you’ve treated your clothing with permethrin, this can also increase the exposure of the ticks to the acaracide — the tick-killing substance.

  4. Steer clear of hitchhikers. 

    Isolate exposed items in large, zippered plastic bags to avoid bringing ticks indoors.

    Ticks can be carried on clothing or gear that you used outdoors — gear that you haven’t used permethrin or a repellent on. True, ticks don’t survive long in most homes because of low humidity, but still — you’re safest if you change your clothes and place exposed items in a large, zippered plastic bag in an entryway. Put them in a clothes dryer and run on high heat for 20 minutes. The tumbling action of the dryer and the high heat kill ticks and similar critters. [Note: don’t wash clothes first. Even the hottest cycle might not kill ticks, and it increases the drying time needed.]

  5. Check for ticks. Taking all these steps doesn’t mean you will avoid ticks 100% of the time. Perform daily tick checks even if you haven’t been outdoors in a day or so. Get to know the marks on your skin and recognize new ones. New marks that, if you touch them, just happen to have legs.
  6. Remove ticks safely. Only one method has been officially evaluated for its ability to safely remove ticks — using sharp tweezers, grab a tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull up. Other methods could increase the risk of acquiring a tick-borne disease. To learn more, see our post “It’s tick season. Put away the matches.
  7. Protect your pets.

    Grooming after outdoor activity with a fine-toothed brush can remove ticks in pet fur.

    Just like people, pets can encounter ticks and acquire tick-borne disease. If your pet goes outdoors, it should have some protection against ticks. TickEncounter describes some of the options available for your pets, including oral and spot-on medications as well as collars. Speak to your veterinarian about the best option for protecting your pet against tick bites. Regular grooming with a fine-tooth comb after being outdoors can help to remove ticks that have not attached to your pet’s skin.

Additional Resources:
What’s Bugging You? tick page
Other tick-related posts

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.

February 24, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Every Season Is Tick Season

Every Season Is Tick Season

At IPM we call it the black-legged tick because that’s its true name. Yet most people in North America — perhaps even you, dear reader — call it the deer tick. A name with curious stories to tell.

But first the commercial: every season is tick season. Impervious to all but the most bitter cold, ticks take shelter in the leaf litter in gardens and woods. Whenever it gets a little above freezing, they crawl out and up. Any adults that failed to find a host earlier in winter or fall scramble into knee-high vegetation. (Females need a blood meal before they can lay eggs.) There they wait patiently for some critter to brush against whatever stalk they’re clinging to, and when it does — they grab hold.

Courtesy of TickEncounter at the University of Rhode Island, this image shows all the life-cycle info you need to know.

Courtesy of TickEncounter at the University of Rhode Island, this image shows all the life-cycle info you need to know.

Even during this fickle February of 2016, when many places south of the Adirondacks have repeatedly lost their snow cover, leaving the barren ground to freeze hard, those ticks keep ticking along. Yes, many die. But many remain. On lovely sunshiny days when you wander outside to shake off a bout of cabin fever, be sure to dress right to keep ticks off you.

And having done that, relentlessly check yourself for ticks when you get inside.

Now back to our story. That name — deer tick — suggests that deer carry Lyme disease. If you’ve had a bout with Lyme or any of the less-than-pleasant co-infections that black-legged ticks also vector, just thinking of Bambi could give you the chills. But while deer assuredly spread ticks far and wide, they don’t vector Lyme. Which means a tick that is Lyme-free won’t pick up the Lyme pathogen from a deer.

The buck stops there.

Verdant summer meadows? Come winter, the ticks are still there.

Verdant summer meadows? Stay vigilant. It’s too easy to pick up tiny, hard to see nymphs  — ones already vectoring Lyme.

The critters that most commonly carry Lyme disease — notably mice, but also shrews and chipmunks — assuredly do get Lyme disease. But odd as it seems, it doesn’t knock them out. Instead they just keep chugging along, doing their mouse or shrew or chipmunk thing. Which includes transmitting the Lyme pathogen to ticks throughout their life cycle. Ticks that grow larger and larger. Ticks that eventually — instead of hanging out low to the ground where the mice are — become large enough to scramble into knee-high vegetation where they’re yet more likely to land on some hapless human. Or dog, raccoon, fox, coyote, skunk, cat, sheep, a ground-nesting bird, cow, horse … the list goes on.

Some, like deer and probably other wild animals, don’t get particularly ill — though it’s not been closely studied. But dogs, horses, and humans (less likely, cats) can get knocked for a loop. Even so, we likewise don’t transmit Lyme; the tick would already need to be infected. The buck stops there.

The next commercial: about that tick that snuck aboard during your post-lunch walk in the curiously warm February sun … you might not have as much time to deal with it as once was thought. Sure, in some cases it’ll be 24 to 48 hours before that tick starts transmitting Lyme. And not every tick carries Lyme or other diseases.

But still, better safe than sorry. Because recent research suggests: as you sit down to dinner that tick might already be dining too, but with consequences you don’t want to bear. Knowing that, relentlessly check yourself for ticks when you get inside. And even if you don’t care for school grounds or a summer camp, this IPM fact sheet is rich with useful information.

Many thanks to Rick Ostfeld (Senior Scientist, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies) and Joellen Lampman (Turfgrass Specialist, NYS IPM).

Skip to toolbar