We must take seriously the possibility of getting a tick-borne disease on Long Island. There’s no way to avoid ticks. We can spray to “tick proof” our landscapes or our clothes and bodies, but there are no guarantees. Ticks are everywhere and the diseases they can give us are grave. I’m outside in gardens every day on properties that are regularly sprayed. I think I spray myself every day—but there are probably days I forget. I have been treated for Lyme disease five times.
I recently attended a “tick talk” by Anna-Marie Wellins, DNP that was very informative on numerous aspects of tick-borne diseases. Any time you see a tick talk being given, go to it. There is A LOT to know about ticks. Tick-borne diseases have become an epidemic and the number of infections increases every year.
We think of deer as being the sole culprit in the spread of Lyme disease but white-footed mice, chipmunks, squirrels and birds are all hosts to ticks. Because there are few predators of these animals here, and given the amount of development in this area that has removed their habitats, they have moved into the spaces where we live, bringing ticks. April through October is the time when ticks are most active, but any day above 40° brings them out.
There are three kinds of ticks that can bite us and our pets giving us any of several diseases, all of them serious and potentially life-threatening, if not treated in a timely manner. After being outside in the garden, check yourself, your children and pets. These ticks like warm, humid, dark spots like armpits, behind the ears, waistbands and groin areas. If you find a tick, remove it using pointed tweezers placed very close to the skin around it and gently pull up. Don’t squeeze. The head might remain, which is uncomfortable but the potential for disease transmission is minimal. BUT you can be bitten and not realize it, so it’s imperative that you be aware of possible symptoms.
Symptoms of all the tick-borne diseases are similar: flu-like symptoms, fever, body aches, malaise, joint pain and confusion. If you develop a high fever, go to the hospital immediately! Ticks can give you more than one disease with each bite. In the early stages of these diseases a blood test is inconclusive. A doctor who knows the correct questions to ask, therefore, must diagnose them. If you are diagnosed with a tick-borne disease, the doctor will give you an antibiotic. Take the FULL course prescribed.
Prevention: Spraying your property does not guarantee that all of the ticks will be eliminated, and chemicals on your lawn are not good for you, your children or your pets. Even organic sprays also kill beneficial insects. There are changes you can make to your landscape to make it less hospitable to ticks. You might want to check with your landscaper or online about these. Permethrin products used on your clothes can be effective when used properly. Twenty to thirty percent deet (a brand of diethyltoluamide) products are also effective and are now reported to be safe, though I wouldn’t use them on children.
In my opinion, the best preventative is to check yourself, your children and your pets EVERY time you have been “in nature,” perhaps habitually at the end of each day. Acquaint everyone in your family with the possible symptoms and line up a “tick doctor.”
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067 or visit jeanellemyersfinegardening.com.