What a gorgeous day it is out today. Partly cloudy, temperature a comfortable 70+ degrees and just enough wind to keep those pesky mosquitoes at bay. I really didn’t want to come back inside, however, the tiny, little seed tick I found crawling up my leg sent me back to my desk in a hurry. I hate ticks. I hate that I have to be concerned about an insect that is no bigger than a spec of dirt.
Every day we hear and read about Lyme Disease, caused by a bacterium (spirochete) called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted through the bite of Black Legged and Deer ticks. It certainly seems like everyone knows someone who has had Lyme or suffers from the nasty side effects of long-term chronic Lyme Disease. It clearly seems to be heading toward an epidemic of sorts if you ask me. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Lyme Disease is one of the fastest-growing, vector-borne infections in the United States with over 329,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.
Ticks and Lyme have been around for thousands of years. Traces of the bacterium were even found in a 5,300-year-old mummy. However, it was only 130 years ago when a German physician, named Alfred Buchwald, made the connection between chronic skin rashes and bacteria transmitted by ticks. The condition was known as Erythema Migrans. In 1981, a scientist named Willy Burgdorfer discovered the bacterium (spirochete) carried by ticks was causing Lyme. Dr. Burgdorfer’s discovery was honored by the medical community in 1982 when the bacterium was classified as Borrelia burgdorferi.
Lyme, Connecticut in the early 70’s appears to be ground zero for the explosion of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. There are some controversial stories that suggest that bacteria may have been accidentally released from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center via birds transmitting the disease to the mainland. Plum Island sits just a few miles off the coast of Lyme, Connecticut. Regardless of how it started, warmer winter temperatures make it easier for ticks to survive and multiply. Urban sprawl has decreased the numbers of natural predators that control the population of the tick-transporting rodents, like mice. The white-footed mouse is a carrier of the bacterium and is actually what infects ticks, the ticks then move animal, to animal infecting them.
We often think of deer when we think of ticks but the reality is mice, squirrels, chipmunks, birds and our pets are all more likely sources of the dreaded tick appearing in and around your home. What can you do to prevent the little buggers from invading your space? Some folks like to use chemical-based sprays and repellents, but if you’re like me – I prefer to avoid nasty chemicals if I can. There are lots of things you can do to protect your yard and family without resorting to dangerous chemicals that your children will absorb through their feet as they run barefoot across the lawn. Consider planting the following perennial plants around the foundation of your house and around the borders of your yard – especially where the wooded areas meet the lawn. Lavender (great for repelling ticks and also our oil of the month!), penny royal, pyrethrum (a type of chrysanthemum), sage, eucalyptus and mint. Products made with these and other natural plant oils are effective at repelling ticks, mosquitoes, gnats and pesky black flies.
Another tip to keep ticks in the woods and out of your yard is to create borders between your grass and your house and the grass and the edge of wooded areas. Using gravel or wood chips, create a border at least six inches wide (three feet is ideal) dividing your grass and woodland or your grass and your home. Ticks do not like to climb across uneven surfaces. The gravel and woodchips will discourage the nasty critters from attempting to travel into your yard or house. You can also saturate cotton with Permethrin and place the cotton in empty cardboard toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls. Place these in wooded areas around the perimeter of your yard, tucked in among the leaves and low growing plants. Rodents will use the cotton as bedding in their nests. The permethrin will kill the ticks, thereby further reducing the population of the nasty blood suckers.
Birds are a wonderful way to decrease the tick population in your yard. Set out bird feeders and keep them stocked full of seed and suet from November through March and you’ll find that your feathery friends stick close to your yard. Your yard becomes their hunting ground in the Spring and Summer and even early Fall as they prey on ticks, mosquitoes, cabbage worms, whiteflies, aphids, earwigs, grasshoppers, cucumber beetles and grubs, to name a few. Our bluebirds live in our yard year-round as they’ve learned that my husband will make sure they’re fed all winter.
Another great way to reduce ticks is to adopt a flock of chickens. Free ranging your chickens often is a great way to keep your yard clear of ticks. They are amazingly thorough when it comes to finding even the tiniest of insects and will happily consume the insect protein and then produce the most amazing eggs. Now that’s a bonus. Spraying your yard with pesticide doesn’t yield such delicious rewards.
Other things you may want to consider is the very perimeter of your house. Keep your grass cut short and keep after the weeds - ticks love to hang out in tall grass and weedy areas. Do your shrubs grow up close or are they touching the house? Are there lots of dead leaves, weeds or dead grass near the base of your foundation? Ticks enjoy hanging out in these damp and cool locations as do mice. Hoe this area out and cover the earth three or four inches deep with wood chips – cedar chips work especially well as the scent is also a deterrent. Plant mint, garlic or catnip near the base of your foundation where leaves and debris gather each Spring. The smell will keep critters of all sizes from building a nest near your foundation. However, if you plant catnip, you can expect the neighborhood cats will flock to your foundation. As an added bonus – cats also eat mice!
When spending time in the great outdoors, be tick smart and wear light colored clothing with long sleeves. Tuck your pants legs into your socks to help deter the little climbers and use a good bug repellent. I spray my clothing and hat as well as any uncovered skin with a bug repellent made from plant essential oils. Look for a bug repellent that contains lots of lemongrass, cedarwood, citronella and lavender. Ticks and many other annoying pests despise the scent of these oils and will steer clear of it. Smearing a natural bug repellent on your skin is a great way to stay tick free while not absorbing dangerous chemicals like Deet. Check out the new bug repellent, Tick Tamer, by Enchanted Essentials. It’s made with a combination of powerful essential oils that will help keep those pesky insects from biting you.
Checking your entire body (and your kids if you have them) for ticks every day is a must in order to help prevent tick borne illnesses. If you find a tick that has attached (bitten), use tweezers or a tick tool to remove the insect. Try to scoop the tick underneath and from the back going toward the head. Twist and pull upward to extract both the main body and the top of the tick. Often folks refer to this as its head, but ticks really don’t have heads. They are bodies with pincers and an appendage called a barbed tube. It’s the barbed tube that is what becomes embedded in your skin and it is through this tube that the tick transfers the bacteria. Be sure to remove this when extracting the tick. Do not squeeze it, pinch it or use soap or other remedies to try and make the tick back out. It will more than likely just vomit causing even more of the bacteria to be released into your body. The best method is the sneak attach with a swift upward twist.
It’s recommended that you keep the tick for six months or so. Tape the tick to an index card and write the date and location of tick bite and geographical area. In the event that you develop symptoms of Lyme or other tick borne illness, the tick can be tested to determine which bacteria is present. Pay attention to your body and if you have any symptoms or begin feeling fatigued get tested as soon as possible. Early detection can make a huge difference. Watch for symptoms such as fatigue, cognitive impairment, joint and/or muscle pain, poor sleep and/or insomnia. Many Lyme symptoms overlap those of other chronic ailments such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Often patients are misdiagnosed with one of these ailments when in fact it’s actually Lyme disease. My rule of thumb is when in doubt, test for Lyme.
Early detection and treatment with at least a six-week course of doxycycline is the current, conventional treatment for Lyme. This has been shown to be very effective when the disease is diagnosed early. Late detection is also treated with antibiotics, but often it is a much longer course of treatment which can wreak havoc on the body. There are many integrative practitioners that are using a variety of techniques to help clear both early detection and chronic Lyme. If you are interested in finding out more about this, please email me and I would be happy to suggest a few practitioners. Lyme disease is a scary disease as it is often hard to detect as the symptoms vary so much from person to person.
Be vigilant, check yourself and your family (including the four legged children!) every day and pray for a really cold winter this year to help kill off some of the population.
FDA Disclaimer: Note that we are not licensed physicians and information on our site are merely suggestions that have worked for our families in the past. One should always consult with their personal physician with regard to health matters.