Tick season in the North Country is right around the corner. It’s not a secret that these little buggers have been popping up a lot more frequently the last few years and it’s also no secret that known and diagnosed cases of lyme disease are on the rise. What’s not as clear is our understanding of ticks and lymes disease and what we can do to prevent it or control it. There are many different types of ticks out there and we could talk about that in detail, but for the sake of time, the one we need to worry about is the deer tick or Ixodes scapularis. It’s the only tick known to be a carrier for lyme.
Deer ticks, or black legged ticks as they are also known, are small, about the size of a poppy seed or as small as a pin head. The females have a prominent red back and sides. They prefer shaded, leafy areas but they are found anywhere that deer and white-footed mice are found. It is said that up to 25% of deer ticks in the northeast carry the bacteria Borrelia which causes lyme disease. It’s also said that up to 300,000 people each year get the disease from these ticks. Thats a staggering number.
Unfortunately, this upcoming year is predicted to be a very bad year for ticks.
Mild winters across the northeast will have allowed the ticks to overwinter well and the lack of acorns in the past year will leave the population of mice lower than usual. This in turn will lead to the ticks using alternative food sources, like deer or…..us.
Before we talk further about the disease, let’s clear up a myth. Tick are found throughout the woodlands in the northeast, especially where tall grasses are present and for bird hunters like us, that especially means any woodcock covers that we may frequent. What ticks do is they linger in the grasses or undergrowth and climb onto people or animals as they pass by. Ticks do not jump, fly or drop out of trees. If you want to avoid them, just avoid these areas.
Now to understand what we can do to combat them we first have to understand something simple. As bird hunters, we can’t avoid them. It’s a risk that we take and you have to get used to that if you want to keep doing it. A little knowledge however goes a long way. Most of the known cases of Borellia transmissions come from the nymphal stage of ticks. These nymphs are tiny and much more difficult to detect. It’s important to check yourself for ticks for this reason. Tick usually require 36-48 hours of attachment to transmit the bacteria so if you are diligent and thorough, in theory you should be ok. Ticks can attach themselves to any part of the body but are commonly found attached to the groin, armpits and scalp. Adult ticks also transmit the bacteria but they are larger and easier to find.
Permethrin is a well known tick repellent and is supported by the CDC.
Permethrin is known to kill ticks on contact. Other insect repellents effective against ticks are oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, DEET, and picaridin. In addition to using repellants, make sure you perform daily tick inspections on yourself. Strip buck naked in front of the mirror and check every part of yourself that you can. If you have a spouse, that’s what they are there for.
If you do find a tick, remove the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to the mouthparts as possible. Try to avoid crushing the ticks body during the process and don’t try to use alternative methods like burning them. Clean the area well and move on with your life. I’ve heard of people circling the area with a marker so that it’s easier to notice any rashes that develop. Always bathe or shower right after coming home to wash off any ticks that may be hitching a ride and haven’t attached yet. Furthermore, throw all of your gear that you can in the dryer and tumble it on high for 10 minutes, this will kill any ticks remaining in your gear.
If you’ve been bitten or have spent time in a tick rich area, keep an eye out for a rash. The rash is known as a Erythema migrant, we just know it as a bullseye rash. Rashes don’t always present and are not always noticed. Just because you don’t see a rash doesn’t mean that you’ve not been exposed. You can get other rashes from an allergic reaction and that doesn’t mean you’ve contracted the bacteria. The Erythema rashes usually develop from within 3 -14 days of being bitten and are not generally irritating. You could have one say, on your back, and you might never notice it. Symptoms that could present include fatigue, chill, fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes.
It’s important to catch the symptoms or transmission early. Lyme can be treated successfully with antibiotics in most cases. Even late stage treatments have been successful but there is no cure and once the damage is done, it’s done. Some patients suffer from the effects for the rest of their lives and it can be very debilitating.
In short, get used to it. Treat your gear, check yourself, vaccinate your dogs and for God’s sake you dirty bastards, take a shower.