Surge in Lyme disease predicted for region

Spring sprang early this year, but if you’re itching to work in the yard and garden, take some precautions so that ticks don’t have you itching — or worse — instead.

A news release  from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a nonprofit environmental education group in upstate New York, states that the “northeastern U.S. should prepare for a surge in Lyme disease this spring.” According to the release, acorns and mice are to blame.

“We had a boom in acorns, followed by a boom in mice,” says Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the institute. “Now, on the heels of one of the smallest acorn crops we’ve ever seen, the mouse population is crashing.” That, he says, will send a huge population of deer ticks looking for new hosts — including people and their pets.

“Black-legged ticks [also know as deer ticks] take three bloodmeals—as larvae, as nymphs, and as adults. Larval ticks that fed on 2011’s booming mouse population will soon be in need of a nymphal meal. These tiny ticks—as small as poppy seeds—are very effective at transmitting Lyme to people,” the release states.

According to the release, “The May-July nymph season will be dangerous, and Ostfeld urges people to be aware when outdoors.  Unlike white-footed mice, who can be infected with Lyme with minimal cost, the disease is debilitating to humans. Left undiagnosed, it can cause chronic fatigue, joint pain, and neurological problems. It is the most prevalent vector-borne illness in the U.S., with the majority of cases occurring in the Northeast.”

What can you do to protect yourself? The Centers for Disease Control and Protection offers the following tips:

  • Use an insect repellent on exposed skin to repel mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and other arthropods. EPA-registered repellents include products containing DEET (N,N-diethylmetatoluamide) and picaridin (KBR 3023). DEET concentrations of 30% to 50% are effective for several hours. Picaridin, available at 7% and 15 % concentrations, needs more frequent application.
  • DEET formulations as high as 50% are recommended for both adults and children over 2 months of age. Protect infants less than 2 months of age by using a carrier draped with mosquito netting with an elastic edge for a tight fit.
  • When using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and then repellent. Repellent should be washed off at the end of the day before going to bed.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, which should be tucked in, long pants, and hats to cover exposed skin. When you visit areas with ticks and fleas, wear boots, not sandals, and tuck pants into socks.
  • Inspect your body and clothing for ticks during outdoor activity and at the end of the day. Wear light-colored or white clothing so ticks can be more easily seen. Removing ticks right away can prevent some infections.

Apply permethrin-containing (e.g., Permanone) or other insect repellents to clothing, shoes, tents, mosquito nets, and other gear for greater protection. Permethrin is not labeled for use directly on skin. Most repellent is generally removed from clothing and gear by a single washing, but permethrin-treated clothing is effective for up to 5 washings.

To lower the risk of ticks in your lawn, the CDC also offers the following advice (you can read more here) :

  • Remove leaf litter.
  • Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
  • Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
  • Mow the lawn frequently.
  • Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents).
  • Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
  • Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences.

Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.

If it’s too late and a tick is already attached, this link explains the best way to remove it.