Due to the extremely mild winter this year (2011-12), ticks have come out early and are likely to thrive over the next year or two. Not only are ticks ugly and scary to find crawling on or attached to your body, but they can transmit some serious diseases through their saliva, most notably Lyme disease. This is a big and growing danger not only in the Northeastern United States where Lyme disease was first discovered in 1975, but it is a growing problem all around the world. This article will give you some very real and practical advice on how to protect yourself from ticks and the Lyme disease they transmit. You will find out the best ways to keep ticks off your property, how to keep them off your body, what to do if you find one on your body, as well as some basic information on Lyme disease and a few other valuable resources.
Ticks love tall grassy fields. This is their playground as they go through their three stages of development. They start off as an egg which hatches into a larva, then progress to a nymph, and then an adult. During each of these stages of life after hatching, the tick needs a food source in order to move to the next level of development. Their only food source is the blood that they suck from their host. The full life cycle of a deer tick is about two years, while other species can last for several years.
Starting off as a larva, the tick is extremely tiny. At this stage, the tick only has six legs as opposed to the eight in its next two stages of life. The larva will find a small host, usually a field mouse, for its first meal. Before this first meal, these ticks are not believed to carry any disease. It is understood that mice are the ultimate carriers of Lyme disease, but ticks are the only means of transmitting that disease from mouse to humans.
After three days or so of feeding on its initial host, the larva drops off and molts, after which it becomes an eight legged nymph. It is the nymph and adult stages where these parasites are usually found on humans and their pets. The nymphs go through a similar feeding and molting process before becoming adult, where they feed, mate, and lay eggs before dying.
Depending on your source information, the common understanding is that Lyme disease can only be transmitted by deer ticks. Some sources say that any tick can transmit the disease from mouse to human. Which ever is the case, I think all ticks should be treated as carriers, especially since most humans don’t know how to distinguish between the species and their stages of life.
Keeping ticks off of your property is paramount in controlling Lyme disease. I live in a rural part of Southeastern Pennsylvania with woods and fields directly behind our property. Our first attempt in keeping the ticks at bay was to let guinea hens roam our property. This ended up being a complete waste of money. They didn’t do anything to the ticks, but they certainly kept the local predator population well fed as the hens disappeared one by one, until we were left with none, and just as many ticks as ever.
In the winter of 2010 I was listening to Mike McGrath of You-Bet-Your-Garden talk about how to control ticks. He gave a great recommendation for using Damminix Tick Tubes to control ticks. These are little cardboard tubes which contain cotton balls saturated with Permethrin, a deadly poison to ticks but almost completely harmless to humans. These cotton balls are taken by mice back to their nests, and effectively wipe out the ticks. I ordered a box of tubes from the above site last spring, and placed them around my yard. They worked AMAZINGLY! In previous years, our daughter had a tick on her every time she came in from spending more than 10 minutes in the yard. After placing these tubes, we didn’t find a single tick on her all last year. The difference was night and day.
These tubes are expensive to buy, but easy and inexpensive to make. All you need are some used toilet paper rolls, a bag of cotton balls, and some Permethrin at a concentration of 5% to 10%. You can buy this here. Put the Permethrin in a spray bottle and spray it into the bag of cotton balls. Seal the bag and let it sit overnight. The next day let the contents air dry before filling the toilet paper tubes with four to five cotton balls each. Use rubber gloves to keep your hands from contacting the Permethrin as a precaution. Once filled, place these tubes on the ground at the edge of your property about 15 to 20 feet apart. Place them in any outdoor place that might be a good hiding space for a mouse. Within a week you will start to see the cotton balls disappear. This is how you know they are working. Late March or early April are the best times to put these tubes out, but they can be effective anytime that mice need bedding (all year around).
You can use a more diluted solution of .5% Permethrin (very diluted) to spray on your clothing. This will kill any ticks that may have missed the tick tube trick and try to hitch a ride for a free meal. You only need to spray your clothing once for it to be effective for up to six times through the laundry or six months without washing. Spray your clothes and let them dry before wearing them.
If you do find a tick on you and it has not embedded its head in your skin, consider yourself lucky and flush it down the toilet as quickly as possible.
If it has embedded itself in your skin, you need to get it removed as quickly as possible. The best device for doing this is called a Tick Twister Pro. It is a miniature plastic crowbar that fits between the tick and your skin and allows you to twist the tick out of its embedded home. If you don’t have a tick twister, the next best thing to use are tweezers, but it is important to get the tweezers as close to the skin as possible. This method can cause the tick to vomit into your body, and transmit any disease to you in the process if not done properly. I have read in many places that the best way to remove an embedded tick is to place oil or petroleum jelly such as Vaseline over the tick and it will come out on its own to find air. I have never seen this work, though I have tried on many occasions. It may work if you want to let the tick sit there for two or three hours, but I don’t want to let it sit there that long myself. Call me impatient.
If you find ANY tick embedded in your body, you should start looking for signs of Lyme disease within the next few days and weeks. If you experience any of the symptoms below, contact your health care provider IMMEDIATELY, and don’t always listen to what he or she says. Lyme disease has become a very political issue within the Western medical establishment. Unfortunately the patients pay the price for the politics involved. More about this below.
Symptoms of Lyme disease:
- Bulls eye rash on your body. This is a red ring, or a series of red rings that radiate outward on your skin over a few days. Only a small percentage of people with Lyme will have this rash, and it should not be used as the only sign that you have Lyme disease.
- Headache and stiff neck a few days after being exposed.
- Fever and chills a few days after being exposed.
- Muscle and joint pain (particularly in one or both knees).
- Lack of energy, which can become debilitating in a few weeks if not treated.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
The above list shows the most common symptoms, but it should not be considered the only list of symptoms. There are many more lesser-known symptoms that are much debated in the medical community.
The medical community is divided over the symptoms and treatment of Lyme disease. Many doctors who have worked with patients in the specific field of Lyme disease have come to the conclusion that there are many more symptoms than what are listed above. They have also come to the conclusion that Lyme disease is much more of an epidemic than is accepted by the main stream. Insurance companies see Lyme disease as a potentially overwhelming threat to their profit margin, and have pushed the mainstream medical community into believing that much of the science is still in debate. Many doctors who work with this disease on a daily basis have lost their licenses over the debate.
Your doctor may or may not know what they are talking about in regard to Lyme, due to ignorance, persuasion, or fear. If you think you may have Lyme disease, do your own research on the subject and trust your gut. There are plenty of sources available. If you know someone who has had Lyme disease, this is your best source. They can tell you the full story of the process, especially if it took them a few years to figure it out for themselves.
I recommend a movie and a book. The movie “Under Our Skin” is available on Netflix for instant view, it may be available at your local library, or you can rent or buy it here. The information is a little old, but it does a good job of describing the Lyme disease debate. The best book I have found on the subject is Healing Lyme which gives a very good overview of the disease, its cures, and the political debate going on in the medical community.
There are currently no approved tests (as of 2011) to verify the presence of Lyme disease in the body. Current tests only check for the presence of the antibodies in the body that fight Lyme bacteria. That’s like deciding if you have gas in the car based solely on whether it starts, but there is no gauge to verify how much. In today’s medical world, with the health and livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people in the balance, this is the best we have.
There is so much more to say about this subject. If you have questions, post a comment, and I will answer with what I know.