Early Ticks Generated by a Warm Winter

Despite our singularly icy winter, deer ticks seem to be more abundant than ever. They seem to thrive on the periods of warm rain that alternated with snowfall this winter, and are ahead of schedule glomming onto hapless hikers before wildflowers are even up.

Given the high incidence of bone breaks caused by falls on ice covered by an innocent looking dusting of snow, it may be well to wait until the ice is out of the woods to venture in. Just this week the trail up Starr King Mt. was a virtual river of ice a foot thick in some places and an effective bushwhack around it was impossible. Two hikers ended up with bone breaks. On the same day, a hiker slipped going to the lookout on Welch Mt. and had to be rescued with a broken ankle.

To know what we’re dealing with and how to prevent bites, it helps to understand the life cycle of the Deer tick and what it needs to survive. The tick gets its name because the preferred host is a deer. Adult ticks feed on the deer’s blood, mate and, once the female eggs are fertilized, both the male and female die and drop to the ground where the eggs hatch to larva. The larva seeks a new host, a mouse or whoever is handy. The larvae molt to nymphs and continue to feed on mouse blood and other small mammals. Ticks are usually found on grasses, waiting for other victims, like us and deer, to pass.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control recommend DEET, Picaridin, and Permethrin for insect repellants. All are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. In the past, readers responded that 7% or 30% DEET had not served as a protection from tick bites for them. Products with 99% DEET, commonly used by hunting and fishing people seemed to have more success. However, Permethrin is the insecticide that people are finding effective against tick bites. Pyrethrum is a natural insecticide made from the flowers of a species of the Chrysanthemum plant. Permethrin is a synthetic insecticide whose chemical structure is based on natural pyrethrum. As an insecticide, it is currently sold as a 0.5% Permethrin Pump Spray.

When used as directed, Permethrin appears to have no harmful effect on the environment. It is NOT used on the skin. It is sprayed ONLY on your clothes (shirt, pants, socks, everything but your underwear) and one treatment will last up to six launderings or six weeks before clothing has to be treated again. You need to wash the sprayed clothes between wearings or check the product label for specific instructions.

Other readers have found Permethrin Tick Tubes to be effective, especially if you live in a wooded/grassy area, have pets, and need protection right in your own yard. Tick Tubes are designed for the little critters. The tubes are biodegradable cardboard tubes filled with permethrin-treated cotton balls. Mice gather the cotton for their nests. Deer ticks intending to feed on the mice are then killed when the mice return to their nests.

However, the mice and other mammals are not harmed. Put these tubes around your yard and the mice will love you for it. Caution needs to be taken that children do not take them apart out of curiosity and handle the cotton.

If you are interested in purchasing either of these products, check your local camping or hunting supply store. Otherwise, both products are available on line.

IMPORTANT CAUTIONS: DEET comes in varying strengths and preparations, in roll-ons, sprays and liquid. If applied to the skin (which hikers and gardeners often do,) it needs to be thoroughly washed off with soap and water when home safely. DEET is potentially toxic. Body checking, especially the head and hairline, remains a must. Our heads have a rich supply of blood just under the surface. Check and re-check each other after time spent in tick-infested areas, especially if near grasses; get out of your clothes, do a complete body check, and shower well.  Wash clothes to avoid spreading ticks to your home. Check pets routinely. Walk on the center of trails and save bushwhacking for winter. And don’t sit on a nice soft clump of grass to eat your lunch!

Permethrin is ONLY applied to clothing, NEVER to the skin. It is highly toxic to humans but safe when applied to clothing and not when clothing is being worn. For safety, clothing is sprayed according to specific directions on the bottle and left to dry for 2 hrs. before wearing. One reader has a separate bag he stores Permethrin sprayed clothes in between wearings.

 A Deer Tick may only be the size of a sesame seed but if it has been sucking your blood, it will swell up much larger. If you are bitten and the tick has been on you for more than 24 hrs, or if you develop a fever, chills, headache, muscle & joint pain, fatigue, rash or any other symptom that seems odd for you, bring yourself and the tick to your health provider.

Time to spread the word and send in suggestions for what works for you. Thanks!

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