The Very Bad Tick Situation

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

I am so angry at ticks for ruining being outside and causing me to worry so much about my grandchildren and everyone else in my life, including me. It’s not a good situation we are finding ourselves in.
There. With my outrage officially established, I’m now ready to consider how we are all going to have to find a way to live with this new reality. Last week, News Center of Maine very helpfully dedicated an entire week’s worth of news stories for that purpose with “Tick Week 2023.” I’ve bulleted out some key points, but the whole series is worth watching.
  • Because of warmer weather, tick season has pretty much become a year-round problem with the ticks carrying a greater number of disease-causing pathogens.
  • Ticks become active any time the temperature goes above 32 degrees.
  • Children between ages five and nine are at greatest risk for tickborne diseases because rolling in the grass and playing outside puts them more at risk of getting an embedded tick. 
  • Deer tick causes Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, hard tick relapsing fever and Powassan encephalitis virus.
  • Milder winters could lead to the appearance of the Lone Star tick which can cause Alpha-gal syndrome. This strange condition causes food allergies to beef, pork and other mammal products and can last a lifetime. Experts are now on the watch for this in Maine.
  • Testing has started in Maine for the Heartland virus caused by the Lone Star tick and the Powassan virus transmitted by deer and woodchuck ticks. In about 10 percent of cases, the outcome is fatal.  Fifteen cases have been identified in Maine since 2015 with three of those being fatal
Managing Life with Ticks
  • Deer ticks are commonly found in wooded, leafy, and shrubby areas, which may include areas around the yard.
  • Wear protective clothing – long sleeves, long pants, light colored – and tuck pants into socks.
  • Use an EPA-registered repellent like DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
  • Do frequent tick checks.
  • When you go inside, put clothes on high heat in the dryer for 20 minutes and go straight to the shower.
  • Common symptom of Lyme is the bull’s-eye rash, but other common symptoms include body aches, chills, fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes.
  • If you have the symptoms, talk to a health provider and mention the possibility of a recent tick exposure.
You find a tick. Now What?
  • For $20 you can send a tick to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Lab in Orono to be tested for the pathogens causing Lyme disease and other co-infections causing anaplasmosis and the potentially deadly babesiosis. Federal health officials say cases of the disease have skyrocketed by more than 1,400 percent over an 8-year period. If caught early conditions are treatable. Hence, we need to faithfully do our tick checks.
  • Frequently asked questions about submitting a tick.
What are we going to do now?
Information is one thing. Adopting a tick-smart lifestyle is very much another. It’s hard*. While I obsess over ticks a lot and have bought multiple kits for tick removal for all my family members, I find it extravagantly harder to do much more than fume about it and feel my skin crawl. What I need is to establish exactly what the lifestyle plan is for in-town walks, yard work and nature hikes; gather the supplies; and then visualize myself doing those very steps. Can I see myself applying the bug spray and checking for ticks immediately upon re-entry? (Visualization has a significant influence on our readiness to change, so I’m going to try to leverage it.) To actually deploy, I also think it will be necessary to set a tick smart start date. I’m going to declare that date being the next Rocks & Water, Wednesday, June 7th which will require of me an honest accounting. Feel free to make the same declaration yourself and if you want some accountability, let me know and I will hold you to it.
Next week I’ll also go into more in-depth information about the diagnostic process.
Unfortunately, the tick problem is here to stay, so it’s up to us to become educated and stay vigilant. And so off we go into a brave, new day.
*Interestingly, as I went back and forth in the editorial proces on this story with Alan Comeau, my communications expert editor, it came out that he already tucks his pants into his socks, sprays certain clothes with permethrin and doubles up on bug repellant as an extra precaution. And, “of course,” he throws his clothes in the dryer and takes a shower! This made me panic. Other people are really doing this! I’m being left behind! It will be no one’s fault but my own if I get a debilitating disease and suffer for the rest of my life!
It’s funny how motivating it can be to feel like you have missed the boat. I now feel an overwhelming urge to hustle to catch up. It’s not a proud moment that being left behind is what is speaking most loudly to me, but if the animal brain can be usefully leveraged, well, I will stop judging and just be grateful for the extra kick in the pants. Maybe being let behind will speak to your animal brain, too.