I am thrilled that next Wednesday marks the first day of spring! I am ready to shed this cocoon – my down coat – and trade in my not-so-pleasant-smelling Uggs for flip flops (well, maybe in a few more weeks). But I’m not so excited for one of the things that the season brings – ticks.
When I was growing up, we never gave ticks a second thought. Bees and wasps were a minor nuisance. We were raised with the theory that, “If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.” For the most part that’s true (although there was one time when I was just standing outside Stop and Shop and a bee stung me on the hand…but that’s another story). Ticks are different – they are evil. Ticks lurk in leaves, bushes and grass just waiting to JUMP on you, embed themselves in your skin, suck out your blood and infect you with Lyme disease. Sounds like something out of a horror movie! And you thought Mothra was scary.
Living in Connecticut, we are at ground zero for Lyme. According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, Connecticut has the highest number of cases relative to the population of any state in the United States. Also of concern were the numbers released by the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station showing a steady rise annually in the number of black-legged or “deer” ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative organism of Lyme disease. People infected can suffer from a variety of symptoms – from mild to severe – and it’s tough to diagnose as Lyme often mimics other conditions. Although thousands of people are infected each year, there is no cure.
All of this hits close to home – too close. Having a kid that spends the entire spring, summer and fall on the baseball field and running around in the back yard, one becomes a little obsessed with doing a daily tick check and keeping an eye out for the dreaded bulls-eye rash. We’ve been pretty lucky that he’s only had one encounter with these little suckers (knocking on wood) and we caught it in time.
Our dog was not so lucky. Our pup, Pablo was a rescue from an end-of-the-road shelter in the Bronx that we had adopted when we were young and single. Seven years ago, he had been bitten by a tick and tested positive for Lyme. Even with treatment (including doggie acupuncture), within a few months, he became arthritic to the point that he was unable to walk or control his body functions. Making the decision to compassionately end his life was among the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do…and holding his little body during it was even harder. Even now, seven years after he passed, I still get weepy when I think of it. His ashes sit in a green box on our bookshelf in the family room next to his picture. Goddamn tick.
So you can understand why I have such distain for the little bloodsuckers and why I obsessively check our family for ticks. Ironically, as I was typing this, two deer were walking through our yard – probably dropping their little parasites all over the grass. Ugh.
But what do you do if you find a tick? After momentarily freaking out, the proper and easiest method is to grasp the tick with fine tweezers, as near the skin as you can, and gently pull it straight out (do not try to twist it out, squish or poke it). Be careful not to squeeze the tick when removing it which could result in more bacteria being injected. Do not try to remove the tick with your fingers or matches (yes, some people try to burn it out!). After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
Another method that some claim works is smothering the tick by covering it with a cotton ball soaked in liquid soap and swabbing it for 15-20 seconds. The tick is supposed to come right out. I don’t know if this method is reliable, but a friend who is a naturopathic physician swears that it works.
Hopefully, I won’t have to find out.