Letters/Editor

Ticks – Banner Year and with New Diseases

by, Norman Halls, contributor

Recently I had a tick bite. I woke up and between two fingers was a tick. It was a dark red about 2 mm in size. I was able to peel it off. It did take some skin and there was an open sore. This tick must have been in the poison ivy. My hand and arm swelled up and I had blisters on my hand. I didn’t waste any time to see the doctor. I was given medication for the poison ivy and a bacterial capsule that I took for 14 days. I have no idea how I got the darn thing.

The State of Vermont estimates about 60 percent of ticks carry diseases, most commonly Lyme disease, which is easily treatable if caught early. But there’s a new disease on the rise that medications can’t fix. It’s a virus called Powasson and it could kill you. Last year, out of 244 ticks, three tested positive for it. “It is a rare but serious disease and death is definitely a potential outcome,” said Bradley Tompkins, Vermont Department of Health.

“The moose is an iconic image in the Northeast and a crucial part of its tourism and recreational economy. But in parts of northern New England, researchers say moose are being killed by droves of winter ticks that thrive when the fall is warm and the winter comes late. By the thousands, the ticks attach themselves to moose — calves are the most vulnerable — and essentially drain their blood and strength. Researchers say that over the last few years, ticks have killed about 70 percent of the calves they have tagged in certain regions, an indication that the tick is taking a significant toll.” Reported by Jess Bidgood New York Times.  “Climate change, as shortening winter, plays to the advantage of the tick,” said Peter J. Pekins, the chairman of the natural resources and environment department of the University of New Hampshire and a professor of wildlife ecology. The high mortality rate is a finding from the first three years of a study, which now includes biologists in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, to track moose cows and calves with GPS collars and gather data about their health and survival.

Ticks aren’t just gross (though gross they sure are). They’re dangerous. Every year we see more ticks spreading more nasty diseases, many of which are difficult to diagnose and treat. This is my plea: Take ticks seriously and consider doing more to keep you and your kids safe from them, because what you’ve been doing may not be enough.

“Let’s start with some facts. Ticks in the U.S. can spread more than 14 diseases. They are “the most significant vectors of infectious diseases in the United States,” according to a write-up from a recent scientific conference. Research suggests that where I live, in the lower Hudson Valley in New York, more than half of adult-stage blacklegged ticks harbor the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. (It’s also carried by one-fifth of nymphal-stage blacklegged ticks—the tiny ones that are hard to see and therefore often go unnoticed for days.) Another 1 in 5 adult blacklegged ticks in the region is infected with the bacterium that causes anaplasmosis; 1 in 30 harbors the potentially deadly deer tick virus; and another 1 in 30 can pass along the parasite that causes babesiosis. And yes: Ticks can and do often harbor multiple pathogens, so that’s fun too.”  Wrote Melinda Wenner Moyer Scientific American

“When we think of ticks, we tend to think of deer, but Richard S. Ostfeld, a senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., said it’s really all about mice. He has been studying white-footed mouse population ecology for the past 25 years. Every four or five years, he said, there’s a bumper acorn crop, so more mice survive the following winter, breed and reach what he called “mouse plague levels” in the summer. These mice will be the main source of infection for the tiny larval ticks that hatch in August and can attach to many mammals and birds, which will try to groom them off. Mice “are just not fastidious groomers,” Dr. Ostfeld said, so their ticks tend to survive. Those larval ticks then morph into the nymph stage and stay dormant through the following winter. And then, in late spring through early summer, the nymphs begin to feed. It’s those nymphs, infected in the larval stage by mice, that transmit the infections to humans.” Wrote Perri Klass, MD in “The Checkup”.

If a tick bites you:

  • Don’t squeeze, twist or squash it. Don’t burn it with a match or cover it with Vaseline.
  • Use fine-point tweezers or a special tick-removing tool. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. If you don’t have tweezers, protect your fingers with a tissue.
  • Pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure.
  • Disinfect the bite area and wash your hands.

Save the tick for testing (alive if possible) in a small bottle or plastic bag with a green leaf or damp piece of tissue.

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