It’s about to turn into summer, although it’s felt quite summery for a few weeks here in the San Diego area already. Not much May grey or June gloom to speak of. And I’ve noticed an uptick in….ticks! No pun intended. I’ve pulled 2 ticks off a client’s dog in 2 days. A little unusual for here, but I’m originally from CT, where Lyme Disease originated, so I’m super vigilant about ticks and aware of the harm they can cause. I thought it would be a good time to share some facts about ticks in hopes that you can be prepared and keep your pets safe from harm.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease originated in Lyme, CT. It’s transmitted by infected Black-legged or Deer Ticks. Your doctor is the person who can tell for sure if you have Lyme disease, but here are two common signs: feeling tired and achy all over, like you have the flu. developing a red, circular rash (often called a bull’s-eye rash) at the site of the tick bite. It can cause rashes, fever, fatigue, aches, pains and long term symptoms. It is treated with antibiotics. Some people and pets will have the disease and symptoms for life.
Richard Ostfield, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY says 2021 will be a tick-y year. Presently we don’t have tactics for reducing tick encounters and disease transmission, so the best method is personal responsibility and vigilance in checking yourself & pets daily. You can wear treated clothing & repellants also when you’re out in the garden and other outdoor activities. Pets can be given flea and tick preventative (see your vet for options and prescription – do not buy over the counter, as these brands can be too harsh and dangerous for your pet).
What causes a heavy tick year?
Heavy acorn drops in the northeast provides food for rodents that can infect ticks with disease pathogens. Dr. Ostfield says, “When you get a bumper acorn crop, two years later you get lots of infected blacklegged tick nymphs.” It has nothing to do with weather, acorns are a better forecasting tool when it comes to tick abundance. Well-fed mice and chipmunks have a population boom the summer after a heavy acorn drop, in time to provide a blood meal for a new generation of larval tick that hatch from eggs in late summer. These uninfected ticks pick up pathogens now that cause Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases from the rodents. Also, ticks that feed off mice tend to live longer because a mouse doesn’t preen itself like opossums or other animals. In the second year after the larvae hatch, the nymph emerge, infected with diseases. This nymph stage is the stage most responsible for transmitting disease.
Ticks can’t fly or jump. Instead, they “quest” – stretching out their top pair of legs to grab onto a host or your pant leg, while gripping foliage with their bottom legs. A long dry spell can reduce questing behaviour but might not kill off many ticks. So a rainfall will bring them out in droves.
So basically a large rodent or deer population will usually signify a larger tick year.
What do you do if you find a tick on yourself or your pet?
There are many myths about how to remove a tick, including using a match to burn it out, or vaseline to drown it out. But the best method is using a clean tweezer, grab the head of the tick as far down close to the skin that you can get. It’s ok to even rip some skin off. Gently pull at a 45 degree angle to the skin & backward to ensure you get the whole head. Any tick parts left in the skin can transmit disease. Then swab the area of skin with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to clean. Dispose of the tick in a ziplock bag and throw away. Or if you want to test the tick for disease, you can save it in the bag and ask your vet if they can test it. Check yourself and pets daily after going outside. Make it a ritualistic practice. If you catch and remove ticks within 48 hours, you will likely be safe from disease transmission.
The best way to prevent getting ticks on us and our pets is to wear light colored clothing, long pants, tucked into socks and shirts tucked into pants. One of my client’s friends, Joan Reibman, a doctor at NYU, developed TheTickSuit. When she contracted Lyme disease, she couldn’t find the protective gear she needed for gardening, so she made her own! Clothing can also be sprayed with permethrin, or you can buy ready made pre-treated clothing. When going back inside, take clothing off before going in. Dry it in the dryer on high for 6-10 minutes, no need to wash first. Shower within 2 hours of outdoor activity and do a thorough body check and last check before bed.
Many thanks to Margaret Roach’s article “Gardeners, Take Heed: It’s a tick-y year” from The New York Times, 6/16/21