Ticks are a threat even after fall arrives
Larry Dapsis provides tick education
If you think you can let down your guard against ticks once the cooler weather begins, think again.
In early October, the adult stage of the deer tick emerges, and with it comes the continued threat of Lyme disease and other illness, according to Larry Dapsis, entomologist and coordinator of Barnstable County’s Deer Tick Project. The adult stage will be around until next spring, and while frosts and snow spell the end for mosquitoes, not so for ticks, he said. The last two snowy winters actually insulated and protected ticks against the cold, he added.
Dapsis is at the epicenter of Cape Cod’s rising tick population. For the last four years, he has tracked, researched, analyzed and sermonized about ticks.
“For ticks we look at the landscape and, well, it’s scary,” Dapsis told the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. “That’s because the landscape on Cape Cod now is home to not one, but three distinct ticks, none bigger than a sesame seed on a bagel, and most the size of a poppy seed.”
Many people understand that ticks spread Lyme disease. But many on Cape Cod and the Islands may not have heard about the more recent arrivals: Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Borrelia miyamotoi, he said.
“If these tick-borne diseases are diagnosed early and correctly—and treatment occurs promptly—most people will get through the effects within weeks,” Dapsis said.
In some cases, a bite can be more serious, he said.
State epidemiolgist Alfred DeMaria MD, agrees that people living in deer tick areas need to be vigilant.
“These diseases are becoming bigger and bigger problems,” he told a recent nurses forum in Brewster.
The numbers tell the tale: In 2013, the last year for which there are figures, more than 4,080 Massachusetts residents had confirmed cases of Lyme disease, with another 1,585 people having probable cases — an increase of 12 percent from 2012.
Preliminary figures for 2014 appeared to be about the same, Dr. DeMaria noted.
Lyme disease has been diagnosed across all 15 towns of Cape Cod, with Orleans, Brewster, Truro, Wellfleet and Chatham reporting the highest incidence between 2005 and 2011.
Babesiosis, which is transmitted by deer ticks, was detected in 100 cases statewide in 2013 and 520 cases last year. It invades the red blood cells to create malaria-like symptoms, like fever, chills and in some cases, severe anemia.
The incidence of Anaplasmosis, also carried by deer ticks, is rising as well. It invades the white blood cells and causes fever, nausea, headache, muscle pain, abdominal pain and confusion, explained Dapsis.
The newest tick-borne illness detected on Cape Cod and the Islands—Borrelia miyamotoi—was first diagnosed in ticks in Japan and Russia. Last year, Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis reported 26 cases. Borrelia myamatoi was found in 3 percent of ticks analyzed on Cape Cod, Dapsis said.
Dapsis, the only countywide dedicated tick expert in the state, says it’s up to all of us to learn enough about ticks to prevent infection.
“The more we can educate [people], and the more they take steps to protect themselves, their families, their property and their pets, the better off we will be.”
To protect yourself against tick-borne diseases, follow these tips from
Cape Cod Cooperative Extension:
- Do periodic tick checks on yourself, children and pets. Carefully remove any you find.
- Wear light-colored clothing and throw clothes into the dryer when you come inside.
- When on a hike or out biking, try to remain in the center of the trail. Avoid sitting on the ground, wood piles or fallen logs.
- Wear tick repellant and/or repellent clothing. Click here for a list of EPA registered product repellants