One early spring afternoon three years ago I came home from my annual physical, pleased about my clean bill of health. Four hours later, I was admitted to the hospital with a temperature of 104 degrees, blinding headache, and muscle soreness. It took two days and many tests and retests to determine the cause. It was a tick-borne disease called anaplasmosis. That was the first time I ever heard of it. I had heard much about tick-borne Lyme disease (who in Connecticut hasn’t) but anaplasmosis? Who knew?

The good news was that it was that my disease was treatable with antibiotics, and I fully recovered in just a few days. What was the source of my disease? In all likelihood, a tick I picked up while doing the spring clean-up in my garden. I vowed thereafter, I would be much more careful about ticks whenever I gardened, or ventured outside my yard into the woods to walk my dogs. I tell this cautionary tale as a reminder that ticks are all around us and this spring – and throughout the year – it’s important to take measures to protect you, your family, and your pets as well. 

To date, there are eight known tick-borne diseases in Connecticut. They are spread by only three tick species: the Blacklegged (“deer”) tick (Ixodes scapularis), the Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum), and the American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). The good news is that the measures you need to follow to avoid tick diseases are the same for all three species According to the CDC website Ticks and Their Body Buddies , there are steps to take before you go outdoors, after you come in, and  if, despite your best efforts, you find you’ve become a tick taxi.

Adult female lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) https://www.neregionalvectorcenter.com/lone-star-tick.php

Before You Go Outside

1. Know where ticks are mostly likely to be. Ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas or they can be carried in on animals. Make sure your furry children are treated with tick medicine.

2. Treat clothing and gear before you spend time outside. Products sprays that contain 5% permethrin can be used on clothing, boots, camping gear and will stay on for several washings.  Alternately, some clothing and gear that contains permethrin are available for purchase.

3. Use EPA- insecticide repellents. Always follow Product instructions. EPA advises children under three years of age not use Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) or para-methane-diol, (PMD).

4. Be sure to avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking stay in the middle of the path.

After You Come In

1. Check your clothes, gear and pets for any tick stow-a-ways.

2. Take a shower within two hours of coming inside. It may wash off any unattached ticks. 

3.Check your whole body for ticks. Use a mirror to check under arms, in or around ears, inside the belly button, back of knees, around the hair, between legs and around the waist.

American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) https://www.neregionalvectorcenter.com/american-dog-tick.php

Oh _______! It’s a Tick!

If, despite your best efforts you do find a tick has taken up residence on you or a loved one:

1. Use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you cannot remove the mouth easily with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

4. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by:

5. Putting it in alcohol,

6. Placing it in a sealed bag/container,

7. Wrapping it tightly in tape.

8. Save the tick and monitor the affected area for a rash or in case you develop a fever.

9. If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.

If you WANT to have the tick tested, Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic laboratory offers testing:

https://cvmdl.uconn.edu/tick-testing/options/

Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.

Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D. Vice Director, Chief Entomologist, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven has put together a Tick Management Handbook, which provides  comprehensive information on ticks to Connecticut residents:

https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/CAES/DOCUMENTS/Publications/Bulletins/b1010pdf.pdf?la=en

Garden season means tick season, but with a bit of prevention and a lot of attention, you can have a full year of garden joys –  without the tick-borne trip to the hospital that made me want to write this blogpost.

Marie Woodward