by Fred Sypher |
Spring is here and you want to get outside and hike in the woods or work in the yard, just enjoying the great outdoors before the bugs come out. Not so fast! First, lets talk ticks, specifically the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) that most people call a deer tick. Black-legged ticks can carry three diseases including Lyme disease, the leading tick-associated disease in the United States.
Spring is here and you want to get outside and hike in the woods or work in the yard, just enjoying the great outdoors before the bugs come out. Not so fast! First, let’s talk ticks, specifically the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) that most people call a deer tick. Black-legged ticks can carry three diseases including Lyme disease, the leading tick-associated disease in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received reports of some 30,000 cases of Lyme disease in 2010, but the CDC believes that only ten percent of cases are reported, which means there were likely more than 300,000 cases of Lyme disease country wide. In Maryland there were 1,617 cases reported in 2010, meaning there were probably over 16,000 cases. Considering that most people who are bitten by a tick do not get Lyme disease, a lot of people are being bitten! Lyme disease, when properly diagnosed, can be treated with two to four weeks of antibiotics, but wouldn’t you rather avoid that?
White-footed mice and white-tailed deer are the tick’s preferred hosts. More mice and deer lead to more cases of Lyme disease in humans. The life cycle for these ticks is two years. Adult female ticks, only a tenth of inch long, lay eggs in May, then die. The eggs hatch into larvae in July. August is the most active month for larvae questing for a host mammal. Larvae, which are the size of a punctuation period, climb up on low grass stems and wait for a small passing host. They prefer the white-footed mouse, but they’ll latch on to ground-feeding birds, rabbits, and human ankles. Fortunately, deer tick larvae don’t carry diseases, but they become carriers by feeding on infected host mammals. After ingesting the blood of an infected host, larvae drop off and molt into infected nymphs which appear in the spring of the following year, just in time to look for tasty hikers. Like the larvae, nymphs feed and drop off, then molt into adults that appear in the fall. Adult females need to feed in order to lay eggs the next spring, so they don’t hibernate and are active until cold weather. They hide in leaf litter and can be active on warm winter days. Adults can be more potent disease carriers as they may have fed on infected hosts as larvae and nymph, and harbor the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. The ticks can inject infested saliva as they feed.
What does all this mean to you? It means that black-legged ticks are in the woods all year. Late fall is thought of as prime tick time, but don’t think there aren’t any ticks out there on that warm, early spring day. When adult ticks are on the hunt they climb up to a height of three to five feet on brush and grasses and wait to snag a ride and a meal on a white-tailed deer, but any mammal will do, including you, so be prepared. Wear stop-rip nylon hiking clothes to reduce the ability of the ticks to snag your clothing. Tuck pants into socks and spray with repellent. Use repellents that specifically say they are effective against ticks. Repellents containing permethrin are preferred for spraying clothes and repellents containing DEET are recommended for use on exposed skin. An alternative is a repellent containing oil of lemon eucalyptus but it is not long lasting. When you get home shower and scrub well. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks. Examine your body for ticks not scrubbed off in the shower and remove them. It takes 24 to 36 hours for a tick to transmit bacteria to your blood so prompt inspection is important. Removing ticks within 24 hours of attachment generally prevents disease transmission; however, if you develop a localized rash after spending time in the woods go to a doctor. Anyone bitten by a tick should be watched closely for at least 30 days.
Don’t let ticks scare you out of the woods; just be aware that deer ticks are out all year round take precautions every time you go into woods or high grasses. Yes, the odds are small that you will contract Lyme disease, but you buckle your seat belt every time you go out in your car, don’t you? I thought so. For more information visit the CDC site at www.cdc.goc/lyme or the American Lyme Disease Foundation site at www.aldf.com. n
Fred Sypher is a Carroll County Weed Warrior with an enormous stash of insect repellent and well-sprayed hiking clothes.
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