View From the Garden: Tick 101: Listen Up Hamptonites!

After all of the false starts, with cold days interspersed with days of teasing warmth, it seems spring is finally here. The camellias on the side of my house are in splendid bloom and the lilac and Kwanzan cherry are in fat bud. Flowering trees sparkle across the heretofore bleak landscape. Fern fronds are emerging with firm determination and roses are showing growth, promising summer blooms. Peas are up, looking vigorous. Carrots and beets are peaking above the soil. The garden centers are bringing in the first annuals of summer and professional and home gardeners are fertilizing and mulching. Second year forms of biannual foxglove and hollyhock are up and growing in my garden. The oriental poppies are almost in bud.

In addition to this entire portentous splendor, I have had the first and hopefully only, tick bite of the season! It was a deer tick and had the telltale “bulls-eye” which is a reliable indication of Lyme disease….And true to the nature of ticks, it was in a place where one certainly doesn’t want a tick! When I found it, I went immediately to a doctor who I know is very knowledgeable about tick-borne diseases and got some antibiotics. In addition to the rash, these diseases are diagnosed by talking to the doctor about symptoms and history of possible exposure to ticks. It’s necessary to be sure the doctor is very knowledgeable.

A bulls-eye rash around the bite is the most obvious indication of a tick bite, Lyme disease and the need for attention. You can be bitten and not show a rash and still have a tick born disease. You can be bitten, not find a tick and still have a tick-borne disease and you can be infected with more than one disease in the same bite!

Deer ticks are the only ones that carry Lyme disease but they can also carry anaplasmosis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis. Dog ticks carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These diseases can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, joint pain and fatigue. They can be easily dismissed as flu. If you experience these symptoms after knowingly being bitten by a tick, if they persist or if you just feel like something is not right, don’t take a chance. Go to the doctor. If you experience a very high fever, go to the emergency room as this can be a symptom of babesiosis or ehrlichiosis, which can develop quickly and be potentially life-threatening.

Yes, I’m trying to frighten you. These diseases are serious and can pose severe problems or worse. Ticks are easy to attract, especially if you go to the beach and come close to the grass and shrubs or take a walk in the woods or on a trail. You can pick them up in your yard, especially if you live in
the woods.

I strongly advise you to become highly informed about tick-borne diseases, their symptoms, what to do if you get a tick, ways to dress to avoid them, possible insecticides to use, situations to avoid, and ways to configure your yard to encourage them not to live there. New York State has an excellent website, health.gov.ny/diseases. There are several companies in the area that will spray your yard to eliminate or at least decrease their numbers. Be sure to ask what is in the spray and precautions you should take for your family and pets during and after the spraying.

Anyone who is outside daily is guaranteed to be exposed to ticks. Even if I’m working on a property that is regularly sprayed, I assume that I may get a tick. I always wear long pants and shoes. When the weather permits, I wear long sleeves. I spray my clothes with an insecticide containing Deet and if the percentage of Deet is 20 or less, I spray my skin. I remove all of my clothes and put them into the washer immediately when I return home and take a shower and then my husband does a tick check. I do this every day.

Become knowledgeable, this is serious!

 

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