Lyme Disease

And unfortunately, it’s as easy to get it in the backyard garden as in the woods. About 75% of human cases are caught playing, gardening or doing lawn care at home.

Any place there are deer or field mice or chipmunks, there will be some infected ticks looking for a blood meal. And you are that meal.

Understanding the tiny deer tick, and current treatment can help protect you and your family from Lyme disease, and the other diseases that ticks carry.

TICK FACTS: The deer ticks that carry Lyme disease are especially infectious 6 weeks on either side of the summer solstice (June 21st). Most infections occurs between May and September but disease transmission is not limited to those months..

The tick waits close to the ground in tall grass, weeds and leaf litter. It attaches to shoes, then climbs up pants leg to skin, often into hairy areas.

It’s tiny; the size of a poppy seed – a little bigger than the period on this page. But when engorged with blood, it swells to the size of an appleseed. Ticks often imbed themselves in sections of the body where they are difficult to find.

SYMPTOMS usually develop 3 days to several weeks after a bite, though sometimes it takes months, even years.

About 80% of people get a red rash which expands around the bite. Other symptoms are like the flu, low fever, chills, headache ( but usually without cough or runny nose). Also nerve pain, facial palsy, slow heart rate and fainting, and especially arthritis in joints (particularly knees), all of which can become chronic and very serious!

HOWEVER LYME DISEASE USUALLY RESPONDS TO ANTIBIOTICS and the sooner the better! SEE YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY. It is essential that Lyme disease is treated because the long term effects are a chronic and debilitating illness.

The tick has to be attached for more than 24 hours to transmit disease so it’s most important to look for ticks and feel for hard bumps every single day when one has been outside. Especially check the children.

If found, pull them off with a tweezer and get the head (which may be imbedded in the skin). Pull steadily, patiently and continually until the tick lets go. If the tick breaks, remove all the parts. Alcohol does not make them let go, but is useful for disinfecting the wound after they are removed. And see your doctor for a preventative dose of antibiotics.

Deer ticks do not transmit disease when dead. However, the larger dog ticks may transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever from bodily fluids, even when dead..

Ticks live for 2 years and can infect pets, wild and domestic animals as well as people.

RECOMMENDATIONS AS OF 2007: If an attached or engorged deer tick is found on one’s body, go to your doctor and get a preventative dose of antibiotics. This has been shown to lower the incidence of infection from almost 10% to less than 1%. If a red ring rash develops around a bite, or any other Lyme symptoms develop later, they must be treated with a much longer course of antibiotics.

There is no immunity. One can get Lyme Disease multiple times. Several tests for antibodies exist and can detect past disease.

TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY Always tuck trousers into their socks and spray pants and shoes with DEET repellent when walking in tall grass or weedy areas. Wear light clothes so the dark ticks will be more visible.

WHAT CAN HOMEOWNERS DO TO LOWER THEIR RISK

1. Cleanup
Ticks live on the edge because that’s where the white-footed mice and chipmunks live (in whose nests they overwinter). So when you step off the lawn into the weedy brush, your chance of tick bites increases by 90%.

Since the spring nymph ticks hide in this weedy grass and litter, cleaning up the yard, especially under shrubs, trees and even in ground cover will help lower the risks. (Consider trying a blower.) Also clear trash, leaves and wood piles that may offer mouse habitat. Stone walls also harbor mice so be aware.

2. Mow the grass low.
Some people also apply insecticides to the perimeters to discourage ticks. Fencing out deer helps reduce tick populations, but it’s expensive.

Though the incidence of disease is highest in the spring and early summer, it may be transmitted in fall when the larger adult ticks wait opportunistically in brush (at a height of about 2-3 feet) for a blood meal to pass. They clutch onto deer or hikers or hunters or golfers.

3. Cutting or removing the brush and shrubs that deer browse may discourage their visits and thereby help lower tick populations. Clip shrubs near the house. Deer repellents are useful to a modest degree for protecting plants, but probably don’t reduce tick populations.

Deer are attracted to and feed on shrubs at the forest edge, while large open areas attract them less. Also suburbs have a habitat they enjoy. And eat.

Consider planting things that deer don’t eat (i.e. poison plants, sharp thorny plants) but be forewarned. Deer will acclimatize to almost any food. It takes just one new generation of baby Bambis to develop a tolerance to most toxins. Deer browsing of any particular plant depends on population density, alternative food availability and environmental factors. No one plant is always safe under all conditions.

Each region generally has its own deer list. Check you local agricultural college or Extension Service for the recommended plants for your area. In the meantime here are a few poisonous plants and some other plants that deer generally don’t like.

Rarely Damaged, Thorny, Poisonous or Bad Tasting

Colorado Blue Spruce, Juniper
American Holly , Barberry, Drooping Leucothoe, Laurel, Poinsettia, Oleander,
Japanese Andromeda, Paper Birch, Black Cherry, Black Locust, Laburnum trees
Common Boxwood Russian Olive, Euonymus, Vinca, Lantana,
Delphinium, Lily-of-the-Valley, Hyacinth, Foxglove, Monkshood
Euphorbia, Hellebores, Arum family (calla lily, dumbcane, caladium lily)
Nightshade (Belladonna and Solanum families), Jack-in-the-Pulpit

This is not to be considered a source of medical information. If in doubt see your doctor. Information here is from: Harvard School of Public Health, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and American College of Physicians OBSERVER and The Medical Letter (Information as of June 21, 2007)

Credit: Mother’s Garden