Here we are again. Another summer, another tick season to deal with. Ticks are arguably one of the most dangerous pests we have here on Cape Cod. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that 2017 will be a very bad year for ticks. Contributing factors include a mild winter (2016-17) and a surge in mouse populations in 2016 (mice are major carriers for ticks and Lyme Disease). While not much has changed since the last time we wrote about ticks (read it here), it never hurts to be reminded. Plus, we’ve got a couple more ideas of what to do, where to go to find more information, etc. So, here are 5 facts about ticks that you may/may not know. They’re great as reminders and general guidelines to keep in mind.
- Watch out for the Nymphs! Nymph stage ticks are responsible for 85% of all tick-borne diseases in Massachusetts. They are most active from May to the end of July (so, right now). Their tiny size (think poppy seed) makes them a challenge to spot on yourself or your pet. About 1 in 4 nymph stage deer ticks carry Lyme disease.
- For repellant, Permethrin is the way to go. There are literally tons of tick repellant products out there. Permethrin is the only one that can provide proven, long-term protection. It can only be applied to clothing. NOT SKIN. And not on your pets. To protect yourself, there’s nothing better than Permethrin-treated clothing, as it is highly effective at killing ticks and can last through multiple washings. The EPA’s position is that treated clothing poses no immediate or long-term effects to toddlers, children, pregnant women or nursing mothers.
- Talk to your vet about tick prevention for your dogs! Dogs are particularly at risk, as they can catch tick-borne diseases such as Lyme Disease, Tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Anaplasmosis. For dog-specific tick repellants, according to our local vet, topical treatments (like Advantix and Frontline) have seemed to lose their effectiveness recently. Long term tick collars like Seresto are a good choice. The best practice is to check your pets daily and remove any ticks you see right away.
- Avoid tick friendly habitat. For some of us, this is more challenging than others. I have extensive gardens and our house is on a hill surrounded by woods. Basically, we live in tick heaven. So in my family, we are vigilant when it comes to ticks. If you are visiting Provincetown for a vacation, a stroll down Commercial Street isn’t going to be a problem. But if you are planning to traipse around in the marshes or go hiking in the Beech Forest, wear long clothes, use repellant, shower when you’re done (easiest way to do a tick check) and throw your clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes on high heat (20 minutes = tick death).
- Remove ticks ASAP. It takes more than 24 hours for a nymphal stage deer tick to transmit Lyme, 48 hours for an adult. That’s why it’s key to remove a tick as soon as you see it, whether it be on yourself, a family member, or a pet. The best way to kill a tick is put the tick in a small jar and add alcohol. Do not flush them (they’re resilient little bugs and can crawl out!!). You can save the tick for I.D. and testing. Scientists can test the tick for the whole spectrum of tick-borne diseases and can also tell how long it was attached.
Want more information? Here are some of my favorite Cape Cod & New England-specific resources:
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension : info on repellants and basic tick prevention practices. They’ve also got these helpful rack cards and ID cards with plenty of info as well as ID pictures of the different tick species.
University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center : Probably one of the most complete online resources for everything tick-related. If you have questions about a bite, symptoms, the tick’s life cycle, repellant options, you will find it all here.
Laboratory of Medical Zoology Tick Report : UMass’s Lab of Medical Zoology is a leader in tick testing and research. They offer a 3-day turnaround on any tick sent in and they can do a full workup for $50. It could not be easier. You complete the online form, mail in the tick, and receive your results via email. It is pricey and certain people who live in certain towns on Cape Cod can get subsidized rates (although I think they’ve already exhausted the funding for 2017). Sending your ticks in to get tested is really a win-win. The lab gets another data point for their important research and you get a definite answer as to whether the tick had disease-causing pathogens.