Nature’s Delights and Lyme Disease

CWRACK!! It sounded like a loud thwack to the house one evening. Later, I realized it was the two loaded mouse traps in the attic above my study that hit their mark simultaneously with a gargantuan crack/smack sound.

 What are night traveling mice coming into my house for in June and July? What kind of screwy pattern is this? The current crop doesn’t usually arrive before September. Light bulbs started going off in my mind. The White-Footed Deer Mice like to travel at night and we probably have plenty of them around since 2010 was a mast year (big year for acorns and other nuts to the hearts delight of mice),  followed by a warm 2011 winter.

 With a warm spring and balmy summer weather, lots of people are out walking the woods, to the Deer Tick’s delight. People are generally complaining that they pick a tick or several ticks off them on their rounds.

 Here’s a quick review of this particular pattern of nature we’d do well to keep in mind. First, an adult female Deer  Tick finds a deer or moose for a blood feast, then drops to the ground and lays her eggs (about 3000) under some leaves in the spring. The eggs hatch into larva, peaking in August. The larva then waits on the ground until some small mammal or bird brushes up against it. The larva then attaches itself to it’s host and begins feeding; it engorges itself  with blood.

 If that host happens to be a Lyme-infected White-Footed mouse (the primary source), Oh, Oh!  After feasting, the tick larva drops off, totally infected and carrying the disease. It hangs out among the grasses to move into it’s next stage by fall as a nymph. Then it vacations through winter. However, when spring arrives, Look Out!, the nymph is ready to give Lyme disease to you, me, or some unwary mouse, with the next bite.

 This means that it’s well for us to pick our spots where we walk or hike, with the tiny tick in mind, even it’s just to pop off an open trail for a quick pee or to pick wildflowers (not on protected lands). Often, our hands brush against grasses, pick up a tick and then move to wipe sweat off our face or flick hair off our neck and bingo! The tick scurries to our hairline or some other favorite spot and stops for a meal exchange.

 For prevention, the only real deterrents I’ve found are DEET or Permethrin. Permethrin should only be applied to clothing, following the directions on the container carefully. Permethrin is a heavy duty toxin, toxic to humans as well as ticks but clothing can be washed several times before reapplying. It’s great for gardening or woods work where the same outer clothing can be tossed on for minutes or hours. DEET is best applied to clothing as well, but can be applied to skin, i/.e. hairline (and washed off ASAP after the hike.)  Caution: DEET should not be applied to children’s skin, which is more sensitive to toxins. Deet loses its oomph after a few hours and needs to be reapplied.

 The easiest way to remove a tick is to cover it with a blob of liquid soap. It will disengage.  Lacking that, it’s well to add tweezers to your first aid kit and grasp the tick by its proboscis (the straw-like structure of it’s mouth.)  Avoid squeezing its body, especially if it is engorged with blood because that blood, which may be laden with Lyme, will squirt right back into your body. Always check to be sure the proboscis is out of your skin after you have removed the tick and save the tick in a glass jar or your left-over plastic sandwich bag. Later the tick can be clearly identified, especially if it has been attached for several hours; your health care provider my want to give you a prophylactic antibiotic.

 The effect of the 2010 mast year plus a warm 2011 winter can be seen in more of all the four-leggeds around this year. Lots of mice, mean lots of fox crossing the roads, bears checking out neighborhoods, etc. on up the food chain. All are signs to take care, especially when we see more of nature’s creatures enjoying the earth with us. Stay on the center of all trails or wear whatever protective clothing keeps you safe. And, if you can’t unload traps without touching the mice, wear gloves and double bag them  to dispose of them. Since mice are carriers of many diseases, it’s well to avoid inhaling any dust created in the cleanup.

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One Response to “Nature’s Delights and Lyme Disease”

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