Norwood, MA, May 5, 2017: It would only be anecdotal at this point to say that the coming tick season is going to be epic. As Eammon Carlton, President of the Blackstone Valley chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association puts it, “Even though the biking season has just begun I am diligent about applying repellent... Compared to previous years, I think their numbers are up considerably.” With the growing white-tailed deer and white-footed mouse populations, their hosts-of-choice, the constant and almost unseen threat of the deer tick has grown along with them. A recent study by a group of Connecticut researchers found a higher number of ticks following winters with heavy snow cover, said Rick Ostfeld, an ecologist who has been studying ticks for two decades at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies of Millbrook, New York. "We know snow insulates," he said, "So it makes sense that it would be protective for ticks.”
A new and particularly threatening virus called Powassan, can show symptoms like headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, memory loss and speech difficulty within two or three hours of a person being bitten by a tick infected with it. In severe cases it can cause life-threatening inflammation of the spine and brain, resulting in death in about 10% of cases. Lyme Disease and Babesiosis, another recently seen and potentially fatal tick-borne illness with malaria-like symptoms, can both be detected with a test and treated with antibiotics. Powassan cannot, and managing symptoms with supportive care is the only treatment. Because of this, children can be at particular risk, since they are among the most vulnerable and also potentially among the most exposed to deer ticks.
Precautions that minimize risk include limiting skin exposure, utilizing store bought insect repellents, and avoiding areas where tick infestations most frequently occur. Richard Pollack, PhD, Public Health Entomologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, says “time is of the essence” in preventing tick attachment and disease risk. “A daily check can prevent this, so everyone in the family should be like little chimpanzees and look for them.” he said. Our four-legged family members should not be overlooked either, since dogs are particularly good at picking up ticks and should be checked most frequently of all.
If you’re thinking that staying out of the woods will keep you protected, think again. A researcher at New York’s Binghamton University said Lyme disease-infected ticks aren’t just in forests and fields. “We’re finding plenty of infected ticks in built environments, places like city parks, playgrounds, work campuses, college campuses,” said Ralph Garrote, head of the school’s tick-borne disease program. “What makes the problem worse is that people don’t perceive of these environments as risky.” It’s also important to keep in mind that our own backyards are havens for both ticks and mosquitoes. As John Stellberger, owner of Environmental Health Services, an eco-sensitive pest control company in Norwood, MA puts “We’re seeing growing demand for highly effective organic treatments that protect against threats in our own back yard without putting us or the environment at risk from chemical pesticides”. In a world of increasing awareness, “People also want to ensure that the cure isn’t more dangerous than the disease.”