Ticks - The Scourge of Long Island by Ron Sineo

What’s small, some times too small to be seen with the eye, and lives off the blood of mammals? Ticks. These small, parasitic creatures feed off the blood of animals and humans and have been around for a long time. As a boy I remember many a conversation with my friends about ticks and chiggers. Who would have guessed that these tiny pests could have be come so dangerous. They are dangerous be cause they can spread dis ease. Various types of ticks in different regions of our country are responsible for transmitting some 8 or 9 recognized illesses and diseases.

Today, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. Depending upon exactly where you are, somewhere between 10% and 30% of the local deer tick population will carry Lyme disease. While Lyme disease is the one that everyone has heard about, it isn’t the only tick-borne illness outdoors-lovers have to worry about this summer . . . and they say that this summer is going to be the worst summer for ticks in quite a while! Other diseases that ticks carry in our area include:

Babeseosis which occurs in about 10% of local ticks. With Babesiosis some people develop flu-like symptoms. Fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, or fatigue. Because Babesia parasites infect red blood cells, Babesiosis can also cause hemolytic anemia. Ehrlichiosis: Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks that causes flu-like symptoms. The signs and symptoms of Ehrlichiosis range from mild body aches to severe fever and usually appear within a week or two of a tick bite. If treated quickly with appropriate antibiotics, Ehrlichiosis generally improves within a few days.

Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis: Symptoms of Human Anaplasmosis may include: Fever, severe headache, muscle aches, chills, and shaking. Less frequent symptoms of Human Anaplasmosis include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, cough, diarrhea, aching joints, and change in mental status.

O.K. I think you get the picture. Many duck hunters are most likely also year-round outdoor enthusiasts. We enjoy being in the outdoors, and we have been known to spend a good deal of time in the woods. What are we going to do about this?

Now, recently, there has been a lot of confusing comparisons about which tick spray is better. I must confess, I am still more than a little conflicted about this myself. I am going to try and explain what I think about all of this and why. It comes down to two chemicals. DEET in one corner, and PERMETHRIN in the other. So please bear with me.

Tick spray cans and pump bottles are a dime a dozen at sportsman’s stores. Until recently, the smart thinking seemed to favor those products which contained DEET. I went to Dick’s this week, and I found a variety of DEET products by several manufacturers. All of them listed ticks, but none of them listed ticks first. The target pest with DEET products was always the mosquito (west nile virus). Yet the containers always included ticks in the list of pests that were repelled. Furthermore, the recommendations were all similar as to application process. Spray on shoes, socks, and ALSO ON SKIN. Rub it in on the skin, but be sure to wash your hands before eating. These products contained different amounts of DEET. The least percentage was 15% The most was 98%. None claimed to be more or less effective than any others. When I got home, I tried to research the effectiveness of DEET on ticks. There are contradictory reports. Some say DEET “repels” ticks but doesn’t kill them. Others say that ticks have walked across several inches of DEET treated surface and it seemed to have no effect.

Let’s move on to the PERMETHRIN sprays. I found 4 different products at Dick’s which contained PERMETHRIN. As I read the labeling and the instructions on the spray cans, I became somewhat alarmed. They all emphasized that under no circumstances should you get any PERMETHRIN directly on your skin. If you do, one product insisted that you immediately wash the affected skin for 20 minutes. with soap and water! As I continued to study the directions, I came to understand that these spray cans were meant to treat clothing only. Although it is not at all clear on some of the packaging, on-line research helped me to understand that you CANNOT treat your clothes with PERMETHRIN while you are wearing them!! You must treat them as much as 48 hours in advance of wearing them. The application must be completely dry and have penetrated into the clothing in order to be effective. Once so treated the products promised that the clothes are good to go through 5 or 6 washings before they needed to be re-treated.

I also discovered from my on-line investigation, that many sportsman and camping stores now sell clothing that has been professionally treated with PERMETHRIN. These clothes claim that they remain effective through 60-70 washings.

Well, we are told that the first and best line of tick protection is to avoid ticks! But since we insist on going into the fields and woods to have fun, these are the precautions we are urged to take:

• Wear light-colored clothing.

• Tuck your pants into your socks.

• Tuck your shirt into your pants.

• Wear a hat.

• Spray your shoes, socks, belt-line, collar, and hat with a tick repellent.

• Do a tick check after walking in high-risk areas.

• Put any clothes that might have live ticks on them into a hot dryer for 10 minutes to kill all insects

• Take a shower after you come in from the outdoors, and have a family member do a tick check.

Knowing human nature to be what it is, I doubt that many of us follow all of these steps every time we venture into the rough. Common sense tells us to stay on paths, don’t walk in tall grass, etc. Undoubtedly we will know more about this in a few years, but for now, my sense of this is as follows: If you spend many days in the woods and afield, if you do tent camping, hiking, and such, if you sleep out under the stars at night, and so on, then . . . by all means look into the pre-treated outdoor clothing. The evidence suggests that PERMETHRIN treated clothing is very effective, to the point of killing ticks that are in contact with it for several minutes! What is less clear, is . . . if prolonged exposure and skin contact will put the wearer at any risk.

If you step onto the golf course for the afternoon, or walk a trail to fish a pond or creek, or if you take a short hike through the woods in the morning, then follow the standard bulleted recommendations above, and use a tick spray that you are comfortable and feel safe using (after you have read all that is stated on the label.