Tick season continues
As October fades into November, I am getting asked questions about Maine’s tick season and I feel strongly about sharing updated information, applying it to what we are dealing with today and not repeating or advancing outdated rhetoric.
Maine’s tick season has historically always been defined by the lifecycle of the tick, when the nymphs emerge and are the most active. Since 90 percent of all tick-borne diseases are spread by the nymphs, this is where the vast amount of our focus has always been ~ spring, summer and fall. However, if you are watching TV or reading the newspapers or even surfing the web, you will see contrasting information being shared. That is because as October merges into November, we are still dealing with a tick problem and this needs to be addressed so that prevention practices are being promoted and we do not see a spike in the number of new tick-borne disease cases.
Ticks thrive in cool, moist weather. This is conducive to them finding their blood meal and transmitting diseases. Many thought that the hot, dry summer killed off ticks, when they just went deeper into the woods and hid under the leaf litter waiting for the conditions to change. And change they have! We have cool evenings and damp mornings and falling leaves that keep ground conditions and woodsy areas cool and moist. This is where we play in the fall. With our harvest fairs, corn mazes and hayrides, not to mention those walking trails throughout the beautiful ever-changing foliage lines.
I was at a three-day trade show recently with lots of outdoorsy people and this was a hot topic. I gave a presentation on how we must continue wearing repellent, treating our clothing and our pets as well as our yards to keep the ticks at bay until the temperatures drop to below freezing. That’s right ~ keep wearing repellent until we see 32 degrees or colder. That’s because ticks will keep moving, keeping looking for their blood meals until freezing temps come around. Then they re-treat back into the woods, under the leaf litter and hibernate for the winter. Yes, ticks hibernate for the winter. They have an enzyme like anti-freeze that allows them to hibernate, not die off, all winter long until the temperatures warm up and then they come back out, hungry and looking for their next meal.
I wish that I had better news for you. The best that I can do is keep reminding you that prevention is the only way to lower your exposure to tick encounters and by doing so, you reduce your risk of contracting the tick-borne diseases that they are known to carry. In past weeks, I’ve shared about the rise of Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesia (a malaria-based tick-borne disease) that is on the rise here in Maine. Unfortunately, the deer ticks carry these diseases and more, including Powassan Virus, and you are not able to tell by looking at the tick what, if any, disease they are carrying. Anaplasmosis and Powassan can transmit in as early as 15 minutes of a tick being attached. In my personal case, the tick that bit me was on for less than 12 hours. Many websites still state that the tick must be attached 24-36 hours in order to contract Lyme however, if you delve deep enough, you’ll find where they speak of other tick-borne diseases that transmit much earlier.
So, to be on the safe side ~ continue with your prevention practices, do your tick checks when you come in from spending time outdoors. Toss your clothing in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes, then wash. The heat will dry out and kill any ticks that may have come in on your clothing. Check your pets daily. Just because you may treat them with an oral or topical product, nothing is 100 percent effective.
If you find a tick on yourself, use the proper removal method and save the tick. It doesn’t matter whether the tick is alive or dead, whole or in pieces. Test the tick! I say this to everyone I talk to. The current blood tests for humans is only 35-40 percent reliable. Laboratories that test ticks use Q-PCR testing which can detect as little as three molecules and is 99.99 percent reliable. The University of Maine lab currently only tests for species but once the new tick lab is completed (April 2018), we will be able to send ticks there for disease testing as well. For now, the proper removal techniques, where to send the tick to be tested and what to do while you wait can be found on our website www.mldse.org
Paula is the president of the MLDSE, the Maine-partner of the national Lyme Disease Association, a member of Maine’s CDC Vector-borne Workgroup and active in Maine’s Lyme legislation. You can reach her at email@example.com