Saturday, April 3, 2021

Ticks: They’re baaaaaaack

attached tick
It’s spring. And, after months of being locked down, people are getting outside again. Just a reminder, though. The longer, warmer days of April are also the start of tick season; the peak of which lasts through August.

    Ticks commonly overwinter by ‘nesting’ in groups; taking refuge under the soil, ground litter, and snow cover which acts as an insulating blanket, sheltering them from the frigid winter temperatures. When warmer weather arrives, they position themselves on vegetation and wait patiently, front legs outstretched, for any warm-blooded ‘host’ to pass by; a behavior known as ‘questing’. When one does, the tick latches on and soon begins taking its next blood meal.

Ticks and tick-borne diseases have become a significant public health issue in New York. It’s imperative that you protect yourself, your family, and your pets when enjoying the outdoors.

Ticks Have Been Here Forever

According to some experts, ticks have been on the planet for about 120 million years; literally forever.

In the journal Nature, Volume 206, Issue 4988, pp. 1060-1061 (1965), an article titled ‘Ticks in Egypt in 1500 BC?’ by D.R. Arthur, features a drawing dating back to the 15th Century BC showing what are believed to be three ticks fixed firmly to the ear of a hyena. And a recent autopsy on a 5,300-year-old mummy indicated the presence of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

In his ‘Historia Animalium’, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) describes the tick as a ‘disgusting parasitic animal … generated from couch grass’. The Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder (23–79 A.D.), in his extensive natural history of the world, ‘Historia Naturalis’, denotes ‘an animal living on blood with its head always fixed and swelling,’ adding that ‘this animal is frequent on cattle, sometimes on dogs’. He goes on to call them ‘the foulest and nastiest creatures that be.’

Lyme Disease

German physician, Alfred Buchwald, first described the chronic skin rash now known as Lyme disease in 1883. It wasn’t clinically recognized, however, until 1975, when a group of children and adults in and around the hamlet of Lyme, Connecticut, were suffering from skin rashes followed very quickly by arthritic conditions, headaches, and fatigue. All cited being bitten by ticks. Researchers called the condition ‘Lyme’ disease, but the cause remained a mystery until 1981, when medical entomologist and self-described ‘tick surgeon’, Wilhelm (Willy) Burgdorfer, discovered the infectious agent that causes Lyme disease, a bacterial spirochete that now bears his name; Borrelia burgdorferi.

Lyme disease (or Lyme borreliosis) is one of the fastest-growing vector-borne infections in the United States with, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 400,000 new cases reported annually. Untreated, Lyme disease can become severely debilitating; affecting joints, the heart, the brain, and/or the central nervous system.

Roughly half a million Americans currently grapple with late-stage Lyme disease, for which there is no recognized cure. Long-term antibiotic use remains controversial.

The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, more commonly known as the deer tick, is the primary vector for Lyme disease.

Prevention is Key

With geographic spread and steadily increasing incidence of Lyme disease, there’s an urgent need for homeowners, public health officials, and the pest control industry to learn how to manage and/or control the unrelenting tick problem.

Treating clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin can provide extremely effective protection. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing, and camping gear and will remain protective, even after several washings. Read the product label and be sure to follow the directions carefully. The label is the law! You can also buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.

When hiking or camping, avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter and stick to the center of the trails.   The wider the trail and the less vegetation it has beside and within it, the less risky it will be.

When you come indoors, check your clothing, gear, and pets carefully. Tumble drying clothes on high heat for 10-15 minutes will kill ticks.

Conduct a full body check of yourself and your children. Take a shower. And call your doctor if you get a fever or a rash.

Keeping Your Yard Tick-Safe

Simple steps you can take to reduce potential exposure to ticks include:

  • cleaning up old wood piles and stacking wood neatly in a dry area
  • removing any piles of leaves and/or leaf litter on your property
  • mowing the lawn frequently and clearing tall grasses and brush from around your home and at the edge of the lawn
  • establishing a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas
  • fencing off vegetable gardens and fruit trees to keep deer away
  • scouraging unwelcome animals (e.g. deer, raccoons, dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences
  • keeping playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges, trees, and shrubs
CCE Can Help

For more information about ticks, tick diseases, and how to avoid them and protect yourself and your family, visit Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Franklin County’s online resource, ‘Tick Talk’, at franklin.cce.cornell.edu/gardening-grounds/tick-talk

Top photo: Attached black-legged tick credit: NY State Integrated Pest Management

 

 

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Richard Gast

Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.


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26 Responses

  1. Vanessa Banti Vanessa says:

    Thanks Richard, this is an excellent reminder. I grew up in places in the mid Atlantic where you almost always found a tick after a hike through tall grass or brush. I’ve actually found them less prevalent in the Adirondacks, but that doesn’t mean they’re not a super big deal. My old hometown has one of the highest incidences of Lyme in the country.

    One thing to note so that people are less afraid: as long as you follow the advice above and do a real (as in, thorough) check after a hike, you’re actually not super in danger if you remove any ticks found immediately. I have heard and even read a study that it can take up to 24 hours for a tick to infect you with a disease. So get out your tweezers and have at that little [email protected]&! as soon as you find it. It can be challenging and gross to remove the head part if it has already started feeding, but it’s 200% better than the alternative. Make sure to disinfect liberally after the procedure. Super yucky, but Lyme is no joke, and not the only disease you can get either.

  2. Ethan says:

    Thanks for the article. Was looking for some reference to one of the most common carriers of the Lyme bacterium – the white footed mouse. I’m not an expert on the topic but this brings to mind the benefits of keeps the numbers of WFM’s in check to some degree. Coyotes and Foxes prey on this mouse, as do raptors. It baffles me that the two mammal species are not afforded any protections by the DEC. They’re hunted and trapped in unlimited numbers during season. Makes no sense. Everything is connected.

    • M Leybra says:

      Yes, time for ‘science’ to make a Frankenstein GMO white-footed mouse to become part of (manmade) nature. And according to the same scientist, “A combination of suburbanization, the overabundance of deer & ticks being transported by animals including birds, as well as humans & their pets, usually dogs, have contributed to a rise in Lyme disease” Realistically, without “suburbanization,” none of the rest of the combo of factors would exist to contribute to ‘a rise’ in Lyme disease. E.g., prior to ‘state’s management’ of deer beginning in the 1940’s, an ‘overabundance’ of deer in North America did not exist, but has ever since.

    • JT says:

      Ethan,
      Try a google search of Coyote-Fox-Tick. It will bring up a few interesting articles.
      What these articles explain, based on research is that the Eastern Coyote kills/displace Red Fox. With the expansion of Eastern Coyotes, there are less Red Foxes. Red Foxes are more efficient predators of the white footed mouse than Coyotes because of the larger home ranges Coyotes maintain. They also found that White tailed deer do not factor into the equation. So basically, as one of the articles summarized is that more Coyotes = less Red Foxes = more WFM = more ticks = more Lyme disease.
      So one could theorize that killing more Coyotes would help increase Fox populations. European settlers have been trying to exterminate Coyotes for a long time with zero success. So basically, I think this is an unsolvable problem,
      in trying to increase the Red Fox populations.

      • Eric says:

        Killing coyotes causes them to disperse and triggers the females to produce larger litters , makes it kind of hard to help out the fox through hunting , they are really outnumbered.

  3. M Leybra says:

    Yes, ticks been here for 120 million years cohabitating peacefully in the woods/forest ecosystem along w/ white footed mice, deer, etc,, until homo sapiens increased in number to the point they expanded ‘their’ range into woods, deforesting & creating back yards. Ticks really got ticked off after living in peace all those years & result was Lyme disease for people & their collateral pet animals. Coincidently, same scenario’s suspected of unleashing the Ebola virus in Africa when homo sapiens there increased in number to the point of expanding into formerly pristine jungle where bats & viruses had been living peacefully, undisturbed for 120 million years.

  4. Boreas says:

    Great article and discussion. I wonder how much the leaf-burning bans are helping to promote tick-borne disease. I live on a property that is damp and mostly wooded – white pines and hardwoods. I do not have village leaf removal service because I am just out of the village. I cannot burn my leaves though. I don’t have the time or the back to rake, bag, and haul my leaves away. So I mulch them as much as I can, but during the big drops in the fall, they get blown into the wooded perimeter of my lawn to decay. Consequently, I have a very healthy deer and dog tick population – not to mention white-footed mice, and a huge number of deer, squirrel, and turkey to help disperse them.

    I wonder if either leaf-burning bans should be evaluated in light of disease management, or leaf/brush pickup services should be extended to more rural properties. I employ tick tubes around my property and permethrin on my clothing, but I end up removing a few ticks every year from my nether-regions. According to my bloodwork I have avoided infection so far, but how long can I avoid it?

  5. Worth Gretter says:

    Richard, I am a huge advocate of permethrin, so I want to thank you for including that in your article.
    For those who aren’t already using permethrin-treated clothing, I wrote about it last year in:
    https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2020/05/more-tips-for-avoiding-ticks-and-tick-borne-disease.html

    • Boreas says:

      Worth,

      I agree – permethrin has worked well for me. If it kills a few skeeters or black flies as collateral damage, I am OK with that as well. I buy it by the quart in spray bottles. Buzz-Off clothing and such are nice, but not cheap. I did find some treated socks that so far have worked well. I wish there was an easy way to apply more permanent treatment in the washer or dryer. But the spray works quite well – just a pain to keep re-applying every spring. I don’t always hike in the same clothes…

  6. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “without “suburbanization,” none of the rest of the combo of factors would exist to contribute to ‘a rise’ in Lyme disease.”

    “homo sapiens increased in number to the point they expanded ‘their’ range into woods, deforesting & creating back yards.”

    Man “is” the problem! We don’t look too far ahead! It’s a shame what New York allows so far as development goes just to create more tax havens. West of Clifton Park, if one drives Rt. 146, one will see how little appreciation we have for woodlots or fields, many of them wide, expansive little ecosystems within themselves…..beautiful, scenic reminders of what once wholly covered our landscape. It’s a crying shame! We’re a plastic society, there’s no appreciation or respect for the things that really matter. We are altering the landscape to suit our plastic needs, and though this may sound irrelevant to ticks and disease, etc., it makes much sense if you really look at it!

    I am sitting a house for a week in Clifton Park, so this is my base for a week. I like to take drives & photos, mister curious me who sees and feels the impacts of the ever-changing landscape, the world around me. Near one new subdivision, where not long ago was a wooded lot and fields, a creek flows through, an ugly algae-infested flow whose banks are over-crowded with junk weeds and thick growth….a stagnant, dirty pool. I imagined it a crystal pure jewel flowing over a lush landscape in the not too distant past.

    I came upon a dead hawk near this pool, paces away from Rt. 146. I see more dead hawks alongside roads these past few years than I ever recall seeing growing up in all my years prior. This is weird to me! The only explanation is they come down to the roads for food in roadkill or whatever it is their radar leads them to, curious hunters that they are. The way I see it, that hawk’s habitat was taken away and replaced with an ugly backdrop of human habitations…is why it was lying where if was in a ugly feathery heap in the first place. I am convinced that that hawk, and countless other hawks and wild animals, would be alive were it not for society and its ways!

    I visited an old cemetery in Clifton Park yesterday where just a few years ago a 200 year-old meetinghouse stood but has since been razed. I walked to the rear, and, curious that I am, always looking for remainders of the past, I went into the woods which was overwhelmed with junk brush, and it just seems to me that whenever housing developments crop up, or they take away one section of a forest, or splice it into sections, for roads or whatever…..it don’t take long for the same to lose its natural appeal, its purity goes away, it doesn’t look natural like it should.

    I came upon old farm implements in them woods, the remains of an old metal wagon, tires, bottles and tin pans, old mattress springs and parts to old cars, an old shoe, glass jars whose innards were filled with soil and moss, etc…. There was even a wee child’s tricycle which struck me the most. There it was stood up near a tree in those woods with a rusted frame and handlebars, vines and growth coming up between the spokes of its wheels. Surely the child that pedaled that trike is much into adulthood by now, a relic of what she or he once was too! Remainders of the past, they dot our landscape they’re fading fast. There was a large clearing in the near distance, downed trees heaped-up in an ugly mass waiting for a bulldozer to come along to clear those fallen soldiers. Those old remains will surely follow not long after. I have come upon this same scene over and again.

    I stepped back into the old graveyard where instinct told me to look down, and there on my pant legs were no less than half a dozen ticks. One was slightly larger than pinhead sized. I flicked them all off of me. The immediate thing that came to mind relative to those ticks was, that what we are doing to the landscape is the cause of their presence in such abundance in the first place. I am convinced of this! As Ethan says, “everything is connected” which is the same thing as saying, ‘there are no mistakes.’ All that us humans are doing to go against the dame nature is coming back to haunt us. The pandemic we’re in is very much so a part of that! Will we learn from this? I am very doubtful…………sadly I say!

    • Eric says:

      Good post Charlie . I notice and think about some of those same things you do . People don’t seem to take the time anymore to just quietly reflect and appreciate , and realize that no matter what life is short , it’s your one window to an amazing world and universe.

      I’m afraid ticks and us people have a lot in common , but ticks deserve a little credit , they don’t destroy the planet .

    • Boreal says:

      Charlie,

      As usual, I agree with much you say. Regarding the Red-tailed Hawk (which may or may not be the dead hawk you found), they are similar to deer and such. Their numbers increase with more open area for hunting. They do well near habitation, roads, and farmland created by humans. Is this in their favor in their continued evolution or will they go up in smoke when we do? Difficult to say. But human population will continue to increase as long as we rely more and more on chemicals to feed the masses.

  7. Mark says:

    I live in Maryland, on a wooded 10 acre rural lot. I have no close neighbors. Ticks are everywhere. Every spring I spray Sevin on my lawns and ~10 feet into the wood line.
    I have deer, fox, turkeys, squirrels, anything that will carry ticks. It works great. Late summer I reapply, and that takes me into the fall, when we don’t do much yard work. Although I dislike using chemicals, getting a tick bite and Lyme’s is no fun. Also takes care of fleas, Japanese beetles, grubs and ants.

    • Boreas says:

      What I like about the permethrin-based tick tubes is that they target the rodents and in turn targets the pest. I am not too keen on killing any more bugs than I have to. Kinda defeats the purpose of my pollinator garden.

      • Mark says:

        Agreed. However I have not found any tubes that would accommodate any of the critters that I have mentioned above.

        Also, I do not spray are butterfly bushes or any of the landscaping where bees come pollinate. I frequently hand-pick the Japanese beetles off of our plants around the house.

        • Boreas says:

          Mark,

          Those animals only CARRY the ticks. The mice carry the disease. They are a primary pathogen reservoir. If you can cut down on the vector of the disease (W-f mice), you cut down on the percentage of ticks carrying the disease in your area. You may still be overrun with ticks, but hopefully fewer will be carrying disease.

  8. Mark says:

    Boreal,

    I must have slept through that lecture in med school….

  9. Mark says:

    So did I. However, everything was expensive @ Georgetown.

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Boreas says: “human population will continue to increase as long as we rely more and more on chemicals to feed the masses.”

    Taking away abortion rights too Boreas. That will help increase the population. Or better put….fundamental religion will help increase the population. Will help us get nearer to end times!

    • JohnL says:

      So your answer to ticks, Charlie, is more abortion and less religion?? Wow!

      • Charlie Stehlin says:

        Ticks have nothing to do with my reply to Boreas JohnL, which was about increased population, and there is truism to what I say, though I could have added some as there is always more…..isn’t there?

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Life ‘is’ short Eric! Have you ever used the ruler analogy? Pull out a ruler, or tape measure, and compare each inch to years alive, so that if you’re 6o years old that would mean 60 inches on the tape measure. When you look at how much of that tape is stretched out, and how many probable years you have left, there’s not much tape to go, the margin is slim at best before you move on from this playground to the next.

  12. Boreas says:

    Removed 2 ticks after my walk today! Luckily the permethrin had them staggering like drunks.

  13. Al West says:

    A great article, however Lyme disease is not the only threat from ticks. I am Adirondack trapper who became infected with anaplasmosis from a tick bite last fall. I came close to death, was hospitalized, and have learned that this and other tick borne diseases are on the rise. I believe that Lyme is a very serious disease, but more attention to the tick carrying diseases is needed.

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