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When the Deer are not So Dear: Lyme Disease Alert

Bambi is not your friend, and this column is no joke.

1. What wild animal kills the most people? Deer. Because of automobile accidents.

2. What wild animal spreads most disease to people? Deer. Lyme Disease and others.

3. If you find a tick attached to you, especially if blood filled, see your doctor for preventative antibiotic treatment. Ditto, if you develop a red circle that enlarges. This is important!

4. It is a serious disease. I know a man of 40 who died from a heart attack of undiagnosed Lyme Disease. If untreated, it can have bad long term chronic disability.

5. For more information see Mass. Dept. of Health fact sheets. (www.mass.gov/dph) or call (888) 658-2850.

Most everyone is aware of Lyme disease these days. When I wrote a book in 1995 (The Backyard Battle Plan) for keeping animals out of the garden, it was already endemic in some places. Today it has become a major public health issue, with an estimated 300,000 new cases each year (according to the CDC).

Everyone I know in the landscape business has had it, often many times. My husband also. I brushed ticks off my arm harvesting raspberries that grow against my house wall. Deer ticks are endemic, and everywhere. Not just in open space.

The deer that spread the disease are also everywhere. How many in our town is unclear. Someone suggested hundreds. (Seems high.) However, deer are recorded every night on the surveillance cameras outside the public buildings in my town Center. I have been told that a local Audubon preserve has its own resident herd.

Deer are in my backyard at dusk and dawn. Their damage to the garden is total. And if I yell or bang a shovel or run at them, they just look at me and keep eating. Humans are not their predators in the suburbs. Automobiles are.

Despite what you read and see advertised, no deer repellants work for very long, if at all. I’ve tried them all.

To ward off the disease carrying ticks, I can not even rake up the leaves or do any pruning, without suiting up. I put on shoes, tall stockings with light color tucked in, a jacket and gloves…. all sprayed with pyrethrum insecticide and pulled on top of my regular clothes. (Never get pyrethrum on skin.)

When I don’t get suited up, I have to remember to spray with DEET mosquito repellant, especially shoes and pants or legs. And everyone who walks anywhere in the woods or conservation land, or in their own backyard (if they have seen deer) should take this precaution.

Audubon is very derelict in not having tick warning signs. They invite people and children to enjoy their beautiful garden and programs, as well as the woods and trails. And they should have lots of cans of DEET available for visitors.

As a public health measure, the entrance to all the trails and paths where people walk should have large signs reminding them to spray with DEET, and check for ticks when back home. Dogs and cats are very susceptible and can bring them into the house, so consider pet tick collars.

So Bambi, little romantic Disney creation, despite some folks passionate attachment to your myth, you are our main disease carrying animal. Yet some live in this make believe world and in so doing, put us all at health risk.

Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant from Belmont, MA

Credit: www.ruthsfoster.com