If you want coherent information on ticks visit a trusted site, like Health and Wellness. In this post I recount personal stories and impressions.
Since May, blacklegged ticks have twice latched onto me while I worked or rambled in our garden, and undetected they started to feast on my blood and perhaps infected me with the Lyme bacterium. I’m sharing my little tick stories to help those of you who have yet to go through the experience to plan for what feels like inevitable encounters.
Here are a couple of graphic highlights from the Health and Wellness site. If you go outdoors in any region of Nova Scotia you are at some risk of encountering blacklegged ticks and in MOST areas you are at “higher” risk. Look at the map and weep.
And if you are checking your body for ticks, basically check everywhere.
In Fergusons Cove, we are surrounded by excellent tick habitat and our garden blends into the natural landscape. I do check for ticks when I come in from working in the garden but have never found one during that first search. Somehow I’m missing them and have been bitten multiple times, which is really discouraging. Twice the bites got very infected so I now know to watch for early signs of that and seek medical assistance. The antibiotic to clear up the infection is the same that would be taken if there were symptoms of Lyme so that’s convenient.
My two bites this spring/summer were dealt with very smoothly and that is the story I’d really like to tell. In early July, as I woke up one morning, for some reason I touched the back of my shoulder. I felt something like a small scab that came off and I knew enough to “hold” on to it. A magnifying glass and a bright light revealed it was the tiniest of tiny ticks. Here it is compared to a very sharp pencil.
Next I looked up the eTick.ca web site to read their instructions for photographing ticks and submitting the image for identification. After some fiddling I was able to get this portrait of my little fella.
eTick is a wonderful, free national service that can quickly identify a tick so you know if your culprit is the variety that can carry Lyme (not all do). I believe in Nova Scotia the ticks are identified by someone at Acadia University.
Within 48 hours the identification arrived by email: Lyme capable, blacklegged tick. I was then able to contact my doctor with an accurate id so they had no hesitation in prescribing the Department of Health-mandated single large dose of antibiotic. This treatment works if you take it within the first 72 hours of the bite. Wait longer than that and Lyme has had time to settle in, and several weeks of antibiotic is then the standard treatment to knock it back.
Prevention and some cure
Of course the best strategy is to not be bitten. I’m vigilant, usually wear repellent-impregnated clothing (socks, pants, shirt), and apply a deet-based repellent, but they still get through my defenses. So my suggestion is to be prepared for when you find that tick:
- know where you keep tweezers and a magnifier.
- have a small bottle or box to hold the tick (dead or alive).
- visit the eTick site, and read their instructions and register. They post the tick photos so you can see what is turning up in your area. (Fun to see how other folks are photographing their ticks.)
Finally, practice taking a picture of something small. This morning I went to our spice collection and got out a poppy seed and a grain of mustard.
The smallest phase of the blacklegged tick is often described as being the size of a poppy seed, so you could practice your photo skills with a poppy seed bagel. Here is what I got. Who knew that they looked like tiny pockmarked asteroids.
Covid has shown us that Nova Scotians can become accustomed to a trusted source on health matters repeating essential information over and over until it sinks in. And we also learned that as the research evolves, best practices can change. We crave timely updates on infections and recoveries. And we value an engaged press that questions and pressures our government to communicate clearly.
Imagine if the government took this approach with Lyme disease. Let’s say a regular press conference with a good communicator, in the style of Dr. Lisa Barrett. Number of infections, number of people in treatment, hot spots for ticks, modeling how to stay safe.
For a long time the strong voices on Lyme have been telling us that our “trusted voices” cannot be trusted. I want to be past this.
No one I know got Covid, but regularly we hear about a friend or acquaintance being treated for Lyme. A doctor who treated Sheila last year said that she now considers Lyme when a patient presents with vague or unusual symptoms.
You can’t ignore those ten full-sized deer in the garden.
For us it feels like our tick problem was accelerated and exacerbated by the plague of deer that has moved into the neighbourhood over the years. Many small mammals carry ticks but deer carry many, many ticks and they carry them further.
Last summer Sheila had had enough; she actually contracted Lyme disease and we were both stressed by the constant attack of the deer who were developing a taste for almost everything in our garden. She started researching deer fencing, and in early December 550 feet of 8-foot-tall fencing was installed. The black mesh is mostly invisible and so far is doing the job. There is great satisfaction seeing Bambi’s tracks on the other side of the fence.
Ticks are not stopped by a fence but I feel so much more relaxed not having to prepare myself to discover that all the rose buds or daylily blooms have been eaten by the herd.
Most of our tick resistant clothing comes from Mark’s and a new order of socks from an online source arrived last week.