Fifty Shades of Green: Dealing with the Uptick of Ticks

Glenn Jochum

I’m sure you’ve heard by now we’re in for a particularly rough tick season this year, which kicks off when the temperature climbs above 40 degrees. Here’s proof: In the middle of writing this article I found a deer tick on my arm.

Experts who make these predictions tell us that a warmer-than-normal winter has resulted in a white-footed mouse population explosion.

The rodents share the same habitat as ticks and are actually reservoirs for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Ticks feed on the mice, then attach to us and transmit the pathogens.

There are now nearly 20 medical conditions and diseases that result from tick bites, and a warning that a deadly one has just been identified. A recent bulletin from U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer offers the details:

Another disease, transmitted like Lyme, is called Powassan Virus (POW). After the initial bite, the disease usually takes one week to one month to reveal itself. It cannot be transmitted human to human. People with the disease need to be hospitalized as soon as possible and immediately put on to respiratory support and IV fluids. Minor or massive brain swelling may also occur. No vaccines or specific treatments currently exist for POW;  however, there are methods for prevention.

To add to our paranoia, Schumer’s press release emphasizes that “the federal response to combat this trend is moving along at a snail’s pace.”

If you weren’t scared before, you should be now.

Here on Long Island, ticks have almost succeeded in ruining our love affair with nature, striking terror into the average hiker’s heart, not to mention forcing us to dress unfashionably, rolling our oversized woolen socks up over our pant legs.

What’s more, they often defy every seeming bit of logic we humans have devised to get rid of them.

“The best and safest way to remove a tick is to grasp the head with tweezers perpendicular to the tick and pull slowly and firmly upward at a 45-degree angle,” says Tamson Yeh, pest management specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension. “Do not coat them with alcohol, nail polish or any other substance, pinch them or burn them,” she adds. The reason: an alarmed tick may vomit into the wound it has created in your skin.”

Perhaps the biggest reason I detest ticks is because I love red meat. If that statement seems odd let me explain. Consumers who live where the Lone Star tick makes its home, which is primarily the southern and eastern United States, have come down with tick-related meat allergies that manifest in symptoms such as itching, hives, swollen lips and pulmonary issues. The allergy, dubbed alpha gal syndrome, is caused when the immune system has been sensitized by lone star tick saliva and the body cannot tell the difference between tick saliva proteins and those in mammalian meat.

So how do we tell one tick from another? Ms. Yeh is an authority on picking them out of a lineup. She advises you to take a magnifying glass along on your hikes so that if you have an encounter with a tick, an examination will reveal its identity. The tiny deer tick, which transmits Lyme disease, has a mouth like needle-nose pliers. The edge of the abdomen of a dog tick or Lone Star tick is like a pie crust with segments in it, whereas the abdominal rim of a deer tick is smooth.

Knowing which tick you are dealing with is significant, as some tick-borne diseases have more severe consequences than others. For example, if you are bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease and you are treated immediately with antibiotics, you are cured nearly 100 percent of the time, according to Sen. Schumer’s press release.

Ms. Yeh shares some precautions to take before you visit tick country: Make sure you read the label of your repellent. Contrary to what most people think, DEET is not the most effective ingredient; IR 3535 or picaridin may be better, she says. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-insect-repellent-right-you.

Also, take some duct or masking tape along so that once you remove the tick you can send it to a lab for positive identification. A good starting resource is http://warren.cce.cornell.edu/natural-resources/invasive-pests/deer-tick. When out walking, bring an extra pair of shoes and socks. Before you get back in your car after your hike, place the shoes and socks you wore in a bag. Then when you get home, stick both of them in the dryer on high heat for one hour, which kills the ticks.

Whatever you do, don’t let the ticks win! Take to the forests and fields unafraid. But before you do, arm yourself with the facts and do your best to avoid getting bitten. Know your enemy!

Glenn Jochum

Glenn Jochum grew up in Huntington, grew up more in Montauk, saw the world with the U.S. Navy and retreated to the last unruined paradise on Long Island, the North Fork. He’s written for the Navy and many Long Island newspapers, and was the managing editor of the Traveler-Watchman. He has written more than 200 songs, six CDs and is one-half of the folk-rock outfit The Earthtones.

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