Despite the early arrival of the spring season, there really hasn’t been much of a problem with skeeters or black flies to date. Although I have discovered a few of the notorious “flying teeth” orbiting my noggin in recent weeks, they have yet to draw my blood.
However, I’m certain I’ll be obliged to provide a donation or two before the annual blood drive is over. However, despite the current absence of flying pests, it is no time to forget the annual warning about ticks, and the growing prevalence of Lyme disease in our region.
At one time Lyme disease was considered a “downstate problem,” since incidents occurred primarily in the lower reaches of New York and in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Many claimed it wasn’t a local problem. Lyme disease was rare in the Park, and in comparison to areas downstate it remains so.
Make no mistake, though: Lyme disease has been prevalent in the Adirondacks for quite a while, and it is likely to get much worse in the future.
According to the New York State Department of Health, bacteria transmitted by deer ticks causes Lyme disease. The animals most responsible for spreading the ticks that host the disease are the white-footed mouse and the white-tailed deer.
Lyme disease is an equal opportunity affliction that hits people of any age who spend time in grassy or wooded environments. Young deer ticks are generally most active between mid-May and mid-August. Adult ticks are generally most active from March to mid-May and again from mid-August to November.
Turkey hunters, who often sit for long hours along the edge of a field during the spring, are particularly susceptible due to the nature of their pursuit. So are deer hunters, who hunt in the fall, when adult ticks are again most active.
Hikers, birders, and anyone else who spends time outdoors, recreating, raking leaves or enjoying a backyard BBQ need to be cognizant of the risks of Lyme. Ticks present a real and imminent threat, and Lyme disease symptoms can persist for years, and often result in lifelong suffering and disability.
Flying insects such as blackflies, mosquitoes and deer flies are obvious pests. We can see them or hear them buzzing around our head or neck, and as a result, it is fairly easy to protect against them. We can swat them, spray them or even wear a head net in extreme conditions.
However, ticks are more difficult to repel than mosquitoes or blackflies. They are tiny, about the size of a poppy seed, and we rarely see them or feel them. Ticks do not have a piercing bite, and they rarely draw blood. Unlike flying pests, ticks don’t target the head and neck.
Rather, they often attach and attack around the ankles, or legs, where they are picked up from the tall grass.
Repellents provide some protection against ticks, as does wearing light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks.
However, even the best of efforts cannot always keep ticks away. Outdoor travelers are advised to examine their clothing carefully after every woodland jaunt and to remove any ticks before they can attach themselves.
In most cases tick attachment takes 36 hours or longer, which provides plenty of time to take preventive measures. If you discover that a tick has embedded itself, it is wise to seek medical attention as soon as possible since early treatment with antibiotics almost always results in a full cure.
The first apparent symptom of a tick bite is a rash resembling a bullseye that is about two inches in diameter near the site of the bite. Early symptoms normally occur within three to 30 days after the bite of an infected tick, but don’t always.
The early stage of Lyme disease features symptoms such as chills and fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck muscles and/or joint pain and swollen glands. If not detected and treated in these early stages these symptoms can worsen and more severe symptoms can manifest themselves. Lyme disease can become a debilitating ailment, and the odds of a full recovery decrease the longer treatment is delayed.
Lyme disease treatments have become more effective, but if undetected or allowed to progress the disease can cause severe and long-lasting effects.
For those who live in Lyme-prone regions, there is now an anti-Lyme disease inoculation, which is surely a wise investment.
Although hunters and hikers are certainly more susceptible to tick attacks, anyone can be bitten while taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn or walking to the mailbox. You can run, but ticks will always find a place to hide.
According to state health officials, the geographic range of Lyme disease has increased in New York State from Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley all the way north to the Canadian border.
In less than a decade, the Essex County Health Department has seen the incidence of Lyme disease increase from single case in 2002, to over forty confirmed cases in 2008.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.