[Photo from Wikipedia]
By now, most of us are aware that the deer tick can cause Lyme disease–a disease named after a town right here in my home state of Connecticut. But the tick can also spread two other diseases, erlichiosis and babesiosis, and these can range from debilitating to fatal as well.
A New York Times article late last month tracts the alarming rise in the number of cases of babesiosis in the Northeast and on Long Island. This article from PubMed Health discusses erlichiosis, the least well-known of the tick-borne diseases.
Our own local paper, the Hartford Courant, had an article on Sunday by one of the nature writers, Peter Marteka, calling ticks “vampires of the forest.” His precautions include wearing long sleeves, long pants, and tucking his pants into his socks every time he’s out on a nature trail. He also shakes his clothing out as he’s coming off the trail and he washes everything in hot water as soon as he gets home. We take our ticks seriously here.
But he’s also quick to say at the end of his piece that fear should not limit anyone from getting out of doors–and perhaps that the message. Awareness, not fear, was the point of his piece, and the point of all my pieces this week!
As a gardener, I’ve been fortunate–any ticks that have attached to me haven’t spread any disease. I wish I could say the same for my dogs, however. I’ve had one dog that’s had erlichiosis and another who’s had Lyme disease. Both were treated with antibiotics and the course of treatment for the Lyme disease was particularly long. While that dog does not seem to have suffered any lasting effects, it’s not as if she can tell you that she has arthritis. Still, she does not appear to have suffered any lasting effects.
The precautions for ticks are similar to those for mosquitoes with the most important being to wear repellent. The next most important is to do a thorough body check every single time you come in from out of doors. I consider myself lucky and fortunate because I do these body checks. I’m also pretty thorough about checking the dog, which is easy because she is short-furred.
The other precautions such as cutting back tall grass and keeping deer and mice out of the yard are difficult because I do maintain the property as a wildlife habitat. As such, there are areas where we let the vegetation grow, and deer and mice do come to the yard–along with all manner of other wildlife. But am I crazy enough to go tromping through there, particularly at the height of tick season? No.
That’s the other thing–there are times when ticks are more active and it’s important to know when these are. In the spring, deer tick nymphs (the young) need a meal (aka blood) to grow and reproduce. It is therefore extremely important to do vigilant tick checks of yourself (and any pets) during that time.
Now I realize “spring” is a big word, but of course “spring” varies every year. Some years that could be as early as late March. Other years it could be as late as early June. It’s all a question of when the temperatures get consistently warm-ish for good–but do be aware that deer ticks can be active any time the temperature is above 32 degrees–so on those lovely January thaw days it is possible to get a deer dick bite. I have a friend who got Lyme disease in December!
Vigilance is the real key here as it is whenever one is working outside. Being safe is always a priority for both you and you and your pets!