Poli-ticks: Drawing the Lyme in the fight against disease

Poli-ticks: Drawing the Lyme in the fight against disease

Ticks are nasty little buggers. They are raising havoc on both animals and people in Maine and New Hampshire. The moose population in both states is dying off due to winter ticks. Humans and pets are being sickened by the hard-to-see deer tick. So what should we know and what can we do to avoid tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme Disease?

In Maine and New Hampshire, the increase of reported Lyme Disease infections is staggering. A disease that first first was recognized in Connecticut now has spread via wildlife to much of the Northeast. In 2004, about 200 cases were reported in both Maine and New Hampshire. Last year, there were 1,300 cases in New Hampshire and 1,100 cases in Maine. It has a pronounced incidence where lots of people spend time enjoying hiking, working in the yard, walking their pets and hunting for lost golf balls.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have mapped tick populations of different species. All sorts of data and information about ticks is available on the CDC web site.

Ticks are hitch hikers that love to grab hold of socks, sneakers, bare legs and anything else that touches their forest and field habitat. They also love pets. Dogs and cats that jump on furniture and crawl into beds with adults and children are unwitting hosts and public transport for the little blood suckers.

It is unnerving to wake at night feeling a little something crawling along your skin looking for a meal. It is even more disconcerting to find a tick firmly attached to your scalp, armpits or other areas in which blood vessels are close to the surface. If you find a tick attached to you, remove it with a pair of tweezers at the head so as not to leave any remnant attached to your body. Put it in a jar or zipped baggy and take it to your physician for analysis (more on that below).

Also, recognizing symptoms such as unexplained fever, pain in the joints and nerve-related pain may be worth a trip to the doctor. Identifying and treating the disease in its early stages is critical to recovery and good health. A prescription of antibiotics often beats back the malady but, left untreated, Lyme Disease can result in permanent damage and persistent symptoms.

For your dogs, lameness often is the first indicator of the disease though some dogs also may develop kidney problems according to petmd.com. Vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and swelling are tips that your pet may be in distress.

To prevent bites, apply repellant and be sure to wear long pants when walking through fields and woods and check your entire body when getting ready for bed or changing clothes after a day of outdoor activity. Also, give your pets a careful once-over.

And to put in a plug for the moose, deaths among these giant creatures in both Maine and New Hampshire have resulted in fewer sightings (eco-tourism) and fewer moose hunting permits. New Hampshire estimates that its moose herd has dropped by 42% since 1996. In a 2014 study of 60 monitored moose surrounding Moosehead Lake, half the population died off between this January and June. In Minnesota, the moose population has been cut by nearly 70 percent in just a decade largely due to winter ticks. That state will have no moose hunt this year.

Here’s the “poli” part of poli-ticks. Voters in Maine are being asked whether or not to borrow $8,000,000 to fund a disease and insect control laboratory administered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service. The lab will address everything from testing blood samples for Lyme Disease to researching other infectious conditions that plague both plants and animals. Currently, Lyme Disease blood samples are sent to out-of-state labs and can take weeks instead of days for results which delays treatment. Having an in-state resource will speed analysis and further our ability to know and defend against this and other challenging conditions.

Whether you are mad for moose, a pet person or simply love being outdoors, having a research facility hard at work to flick the tick may be in our collective best interest.

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