In the past month we've cut new walking trails through the woods. Serious bushwhacking should be done before the brush leafs out and wood ticks suck the blood from our bodies.
While we're essentially done with the trail blazing, much grubbing, lopping, pruning and smoothing remains. It's our goal to do as much as possible this weekend before we hang it up for the early spring season.
In March we began taking tick precautions. We tucked our pants into our socks before heading out on the trails. Wood ticks are a nuisance more than anything else, but deer ticks are another matter. It was the presence of two deer ticks, one on Mariah and one on me, that really put on our "tick alert."
As many of you know the diminutive deer (bear) tick (Ixodes dammini) may simultaneously transmit three or more bacterial infections, including Lyme disease, to humans and other animals. Bacteria-based ehrlichiosis and babesiosis sometimes are co-infections that complicate and increase the number, severity and duration of Lyme disease symptoms. Unfortunately, additional tick-borne infections may also be fraternizing with the spirochete bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that causes Lyme disease.
Robert and I are scheduled for our final Lyme disease shots, the third in a series started last year. The vaccination is roughly 80 percent effective, but even that is worth it to us since we spend so much time in the woods. Mariah, at six years of age, is not a candidate for the immunization.
As you may remember, I've written numerous columns through the years on deer ticks and associated disease transmissions. Many folks are doing spring clean up, yard work and spending more time outdoors during our erratic spurts of warm weather, so a review of the subject is timely.
Let's look at tick identification, how to remove ticks from humans and domestic animals and ways we can reduce our exposure to deer ticks.
The adult common wood tick is twice as large or more than the adult deer tick. Wood ticks are brown, often with white markings on their backs, and roundish-oval in shape, while deer ticks tend to be brownish-red or black in color and look like tiny teardrops.
Unlike the common wood tick that bites only in the adult form, the deer tick will bite in adult, larval and nymphal stages with the incidence peaking in June and July. At mid-summer the nymphal deer tick, which is as tiny as a pepper speck, is extremely active.
Remember however, although both immature and adult deer ticks may be carriers, not all deer ticks carry bacteria that cause the aforementioned diseases.
1) Very carefully remove a tick by using tweezers to grasp the insect as close to the skin as possible. Do not squeeze, twist or jerk the tick. Pull it straight out with a steady pressure. If tweezers aren't available, grasp the tick with a piece of tissue. Be sure the head and mouth are not left in the skin. If you question whether the entire tick was removed, see a physician.
2) Save the tick. Put it in a small capped container in the freezer. You may need it for positive identification and analysis if you develop disease symptoms.
3) Wash your hands and the bite with soap and hot water, clean the bite with hydrogen peroxide/disinfectant and apply an antibacterial cream.
4) Write down the date and location of the bite.
5) Watch your skin to see if an inflammation develops. Early signs of possible disease include headaches, chills, nausea, fever, rash, aching joints and fatigue.
6) If inflammation or symptoms occur, immediately see your doctor (or a veterinarian for a pet). Treatment in the early stages of all three diseases can usually prevent complications.
-- Avoid tick exposure in endemic areas if possible and practical.
-- Walk along cleared or paved surfaces rather than on grass or in the woods if there is a choice.
-- Inspect your body and your pets and animals daily for ticks.
-- Use insect repellents containing DEET and/or permethrin on your clothing. Fresh tick collars or other options are available for your pets, but watch for side effects and skin irritations.
Always be careful with insecticides and follow package instructions. If I use an insecticide I restrict these toxic compounds to my clothing and put no repellents directly on my or Mariah's skin.
-- Wear light-colored clothes when in the woods and in high grass so you may more easily spot and brush off ticks.
-- Tuck pants into boots or socks; wear long-sleeved shirts, buttoned at the cuff.
-- Mow the grass around your home and outbuildings to make the area less attractive to ticks.
I hope this information aids you, family members and friends about one of the few perils of walking or working in the woods. Finding deer ticks on our bodies in March reminded us that it's never too early to look for ticks.
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