To get caught up and find out why Lyme disease is spreading like oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, check out Part I. We’ll all wait for you. We’re nice.
So, reason number three why Lyme disease is rampant: us.
It’s not us so much as our current form of interacting with the world. We deforest huge tracts of land, reduce the habitat and diversity, kill off the large predators, and live closer to those snuggly-wuggly animals. Then we fixate on the “big threats”, like grizzly bears, tornadoes, and the sky falling. After all, it’s common knowledge that we’re immune to such paltry things as disease, energy cost fluctuations, and, for those of you who would be disappointed if I didn’t mention it, Michael Bay films.
By reducing all landscapes to a single type of plant and wiping out all those mean predators, we create a habitat that is great for only a handful of animals. This is not an ideal way of creating healthy landscapes, animals, and people.
A nice, ripe White Tail deer is often the final meal a female tick has before carpet bombing the planet with thousands of hellish offspring. Researchers can predict where the next surge in the tick population will be by following deer. (More deer = more nutrients for tick nooky.) Deer also travel a long way, navigating the prairies like a furry Mayflower, depositing disease-ridden colonists wherever they go. Much like the actual Mayflower, come to think of it.
Predators of all kinds find deer tasty. Their role in the world is to keep the deer population healthy and at reasonable levels, among other things. Human attitudes towards the big, bad predators have helped shape and intensify the tick problem by ensuring an ever-present bumper crop of deer.
But again, humans don’t suck. You don’t suck. You can do a lot of good starting right now. Let’s start with the small things you can do to reduce Lyme risk for you and your family:
Wear light-coloured clothing when you’re out roaming in tick country. Ticks aren’t built like mosquitoes. They can’t just puncture through clothing and into the skin. Their whole strategy involves getting to bare skin undetected, so you’ll notice their dark bodies on a light backdrop while they crawl around looking for a way in. Bonus points for wearing long pants and tucking them into your boots or socks. This is also a stylish approach to outdoor living.
The single most effective thing you can do to avoid Lyme disease is performing tick checks. Once a tick is attached it will stay that way for days while it feeds. (They believe in savouring meals.) It takes Lyme disease about 24 hours to transfer from the tick to the host, so finding and properly removing the tick as soon as possible can be all it takes to keep from getting infected. It’s also important to harvest these ticks for testing so we know how many are carrying what diseases and in what areas.
Do a tick check every time you get back to your home or camp or mothership. It’s easy: strip down to your ape suit and check along your skin for any little bumps. You’re not looking for a whole tick; only their abdomen will be visible (like this). Keep in mind that ticks prefer devouring in calm, so any fold of skin is a likely hiding place. Belly buttons, groins, and behind ears are all favorites.
One cannot stress enough the power of pairs. Humans are the only apes that don’t groom each other, which leaves us at a disadvantage when dealing with parasites that feed attached to our skin. Many couples who do this get into the shower after an excursion and look each other over while washing, allowing for visual and tactile examination. And there’s nothing more romantic than a lantern-lit tick check while freezing your respective butts off in a nylon tent.
- Never, ever, ever use fire, pointy objects, or anything else to threaten an attached tick. They are just as likely to burrow deeper as they are to back out. The only known safe way to remove a tick is to use tweezers (or a specialized tick removal tool) to grab the critter as close to the mouth parts as possible and pull it straight out. Note that squeezing a tick’s body can cause it to regurgitate, which increases risk of infection substantially.
Don’t build or buy a house that’s in the type of suburbia with isolated forests abutting your property. These forests, devoid of predators, are perfect for mice and other rodents, thus giving ticks an endless supply of morsels to keep their life cycle going. We all want to live nestled in bear-free woodlands with Ewoks frolicking about, but this is one of the exact patterns that has helped Connecticut earn sky-high rates of Lyme disease.
Birds carry lots of ticks from all over the place, so resist the urge to turn your yard into a landing strip for invading disease vectors. Birds can find their own food in the flush of spring and summer, which is when most people hang a feeder next to their door and when most ticks are looking to hitch a ride and get freaky with each other. Put out feeders only when there’s a dearth of forage, namely the colder months. This is when birds need the most help and ticks are less likely to go far.
Design your landscape and structures right the first time. You could, for example, create an integrative ecology using something like, I don’t know, Permaculture. If only there was a blog post out there that combines Permaculture with Lyme disease mitigation. I guess we’ll have to wait and hope somebody will rewrite my essay in the near future.