Ticks, ticks everywhere
It’s probably not news to you by now that this is a banner year for ticks.
Most everyone I know has already had several encounters with ticks this spring. I’ve already picked 3 off me. Well, I picked 2 off that hadn’t yet attached their bloodthirsty little mouths onto me yet but one had gotten a good hold on my neck. He (she?) was in a position where I couldn’t get the proper grip with the tweezers to pull it out the right way. My granddaughters were coming for lunch in a couple hours so I gritted my teeth and waited. (This one was a dog tick, the other two were one each — a dog tick and a deer tick.)
My granddaughters, bless their hearts, between the two of them — along with some ‘eewws’ and “yuks” — got the tick out and slipped it into a small zip lock bag. That’s very important. And don’t squish it. (More on that later.)
It’s ironic that Maine is the only state with no poisonous snakes and not much in the way of big animals in the woods that we have to worry about, but we have the tiny deer tick and the brown recluse spider than can cause serious problems, even kill you. And they’re sneaky. You often don’t even know they’ve bitten you and injected their extremely toxic poison into you until it’s been there long enough to cause harm. Many times, it isn’t until the site becomes red and swollen that you know you’ve been bitten. By then, you’re in real danger.
We should all become familiar with what these buggers look like, where we might run across them, where they hang out and how to cut down on the chances of getting attacked. There are numerous sites on the web with photos for ID, ways to avoid them and what to do if you are bitten. We should also be sure our kids know too so that they will not just brush them off, figuratively and literally and then not tell us not get treated right away. Prompt treatment is essential.
Ticks are lazy little creatures. They climb up blades of grass and such and just wait, their front legs out, for you to come by. They can smell you coming and when you walk past, they grab on and ride home with you. From there, they may take hours before they crawl up and attach themselves somewhere, like on your neck. Even then, you probably won’t feel them. I didn’t. I only became aware of the little last beast while I was combing my hair. Any year, but this one especially it seems, it’s important to check yourself over — every inch — every day. And do the same with your kids, especially in their hair.
If you find one attached, grab him, with tweezers, by the mouth right where it’s attached and pull straight back out. That’s the best way to avoid the beast injecting more poison into you. Always put the tick directly into a zip-lock bag and zip — tight. Don’t crush as it may make it difficult to identify, guts and all that.
With a magnifying glass, use the online photos to make identification. If it’s a deer tick, save it to take to the doctor should you get any sign of redness or swelling, particularly the tell tale “bull’s-eye.” If you do, get immediate attention and take the bagged tick with you to prove it’s identity to the doctor. Otherwise, you may get a "wait-and-see" approach as doctors are often hesitant to start the treatments until they’ve pretty certain you really were bitten with a deer tick. Delay in treatment can be costly.
Don’t breathe too big a sigh of relief if you find that a tick that has attached itself to you is "only" a dog tick, rather than a deer tick. Dog ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted fever. This is more prevalent in the West where it was first discovered, hence the name, but has spread to other areas, including the East. That’s another tick you should be able to identify and to familiarize yourself with the signs of infection.
Prevention Prevention Prevention — that’s the name of the game. The first line of attack is not to smell good to the ticks in the first place. That entails what and how you wear for clothing if you’re going to be in the grass or woods and what repellents you might use.
Repellents range from good old-timey Woodsman’s Dope, which will repel anything — even your friends, to some mixtures of better smelling essential oils like eucalyptus and lemon grass. (When I lived in California, I used to put branches of eucalyptus with the buds on them behind my couches and bureaus to keep the house insect free, especially flea-free.)
Also, guinea hens are famous for hunting and eating ticks and other insects, including Japanese beetle larvae, another big plus. Of course, they’d need free range around the yard. My dog, bred to hunt small game, would take care of them before they could be of much use. Hmmm — my dog or Guinea hens?
If you have been bitten, either by a tick or a recluse (be sure to research the recluse bite, it can save you a leg or an hand or your life), there’s a home remedy — a poultice of activated charcoal that you could apply immediately. You can find info about it online. But always see your doctor as soon as possible also.
And maybe your first line of defense against ticks is to treat your animals — for two reasons: ticks love to hitchhike in on your pets and Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are just as dangerous to your pets as to you.
One thing we all know is that anyone who has found a tick or two crawling on their body then always feels like every little twinge is a tick and we yank up our pant leg or shirt expecting to see one of the little buggers.
Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast. She now lives in Morrill.