In some parts of the United States, mainly where deer frolic, ticks are abundant during the summer months. Lyme disease is the tick-borne illness we’ve all heard of, but over the last 50 years, scientists have been identified more than a dozen new tick-borne diseases. (Are you a mosquito magnet? This might be why.)
The Global Lyme Alliance website lists 15 of them, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, bartonella henselae (aka cat scratch disease), ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Two of the newest tick-borne diseases are borrelia miyamotoi—which is a distant relative of the bacterium that leads to Lyme disease and causes chills, headache, fatigue, body and joint pain, and relapsing fever—and Bourbon virus, which is extremely rare (only two cases, in Kansas and Oklahoma, have been reported)—which causes fever, fatigue, rash, and muscle and joint pain. The most serious tick-borne disease is Powassan encephalitis, a viral brain infection that causes seizures, aphasia, muscle weakness, dementia, and even death.
Some tick-borne diseases are location-specific: Anaplasmosis and babesiosis are found in the Northeast; Heartland virus and Bourbon virus in the Midwest; Southern tick-associated rash illness in the South; and Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the West. Meanwhile, ehrlichiosis doesn’t discriminate—it can be found in many parts of the United States. (Find out the best ways to avoid getting bitten by a tick.)
This spring, the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in upstate New York launched The Tick Project, with 1,200 families participating. As part of the project, some families will receive a “Tick Control System,” a box that attracts small mammals. When an animal enters the box, it receives a small dose of fipronil, the active ingredient in many tick treatments used on dogs and cats. Fipronil kills ticks on animals such as mice and chipmunks, which are largely responsible for infecting ticks with the Lyme bacterium. Other families will get a tick-killing fungus sprayed on their shrubbery, and still other families will get neither. Over the next five years, the researchers will check to see whether the boxes and fungus reduce the number of people getting tick-borne diseases.
For the rest of us worried about tick-borne illness, here are the “6 Cs,” a set of prevention tips, from mosquito and tick control franchise Mosquito Squad:
1. Clear out. Reduce your tick exposure by clearing out areas where lawn and tree debris gathers.
2. Clean. Eliminate leaf litter and brush by cleaning it up around the house and lawn edges, mow tall grasses, and keep your lawn short.
3. Choose plants. Select plants and shrubs that are not attractive to deer and/or install physical barriers to keep deer out of your yard. (These plants repel mosquitos naturally.)
4. Check hiding places. Know tick hiding places and check them frequently. Fences, brick walls, and patio retaining walls are popular hiding places.
6. Call the pros. Professional tick control utilizes both barrier sprays that will eliminate adult ticks on contact as well as tick tubes.