They’re still here,
and they still suck ~
“What doesn’t kill you, will mutate and kill you.” V.T.
Are you looking for something to read that will take your mind off of this darn Coronavirus fiasco?
Great! You’ve come to the right place.
This, and next week’s article, will discuss in detail another terrible disease to avoid – Lyme disease. It requires no masks, and the vaccine is no longer available thanks to – well, we’ll have to wait until next week to get that information.
The COVID-19 pandemic has monopolized the spotlight over the last 18 months, leaving Lyme disease in its shadow. This understudied disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States.
If untreated or improperly treated, it can also be one of the most debilitating and frustrating diseases to befall humans.
Oh yeah, and dogs, too!
Now is not the time to let down our guard, considering the fact that we are surrounded by vast numbers of ticks here in our mountains.
As of 2019, West Virginia had had 3,242 cases of Lyme Disease, 18 of which were in Pocahontas County. Those are only the “confirmed” cases. It is estimated that there are 10 times that number of cases that were never reported and, presumably, were left untreated.
Lyme disease is insidious for a number of reasons.
First, if we contract the disease, we do not get immunity from the miserable experience. This means that we can get the infection over and over again. Think about that the next time you head out for a hike or work in the garden.
And, if Lyme disease is not recognized, and is left untreated, it can migrate from the bloodstream to other parts of the body, creating havoc and pain for years to come.
The key to avoiding this unfortunate possibility is learning to identify the ticks in our area and exercise vigilance in checking the entire body surface after every venture into the outdoors. Doing so will pay off in spades.
A brief update on ticks in our mountainous region.
According to the WVU Extension Service, we have three ticks in our region that are vectors for a range of bacterial infections – the lone star tick, the American dog tick and the deer tick (also known as the blacklegged tick).
The American dog tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted fever (RMSF). While the Lone Star Tick is responsible for spreading red meat allergy and Southern tick associated rash illness (STARI). According to the CDC, STARI has symptoms milder than Lyme disease and is easily treated with antibiotics.
It is exclusively the deer tick that carries the bacteria for the transmission of Lyme disease to humans and our ever-faithful dogs. The white-tailed deer is also just a blood host and does not, as some people believe, carry the Lyme bacteria.
We are all just involuntary blood donors, and the ticks are just miniature vampires.
But unlike humans and canines, deer have immunity from Lyme disease – lucky deer, at least until deer season.
OK, we know that our local ticks are all capable of transmitting bacterial infections. Now, let’s focus on the real culprit in Lyme disease, the deer tick.
The lifecycle of the deer tick
The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, has a lifespan of approximately two years. The tick passes through three stages within that timespan after hatching from the egg – larvae, nymph and adult.
The larvae are incredibly tiny, about the size of a period on newspaper print. It seeks its first of three blood meals from ground level, where it hides among leaf litter and grass.
This meal is generally obtained from small rodents and birds that are within reach of the larvae. Suppose they sup from species such as the white-footed mouse or the American robin. In that case, they may become infected, as both of these species have been identified as competent reservoirs for Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
The uninfected larvae eat only one meal in their first year. This means that they do not pose a hazard to humans or dogs until the following year, when they return as nymphs and adults.
Pocahontas countians should note that the invasive barberry plant is making significant inroads here. Watoga State Park has several areas where the barberry dominates native plant species. This dense and thorny plant provides perfect cover for the white-footed mouse, thereby increasing the odds of infecting more ticks and, therefore, more humans.
The larvae molt into the nymph stage in the early fall, going dormant until late in the following spring. They may then be locked, loaded and ready to inject us with Borrelia burgdorferi, if the larva was infected.
The nymph has been compared to a poppy seed in size, and can be easily overlooked during an examination of the body.
The second blood meal is drawn from darn near anything passing within reach of the nymph, positioned higher up in the vegetation. Having no eyes, the tick senses its host (next meal) by the presence of carbon dioxide from exhalation.
This meal serves as a second chance for a deer tick to become infected if it feeds on an infected animal. It then molts into an adult deer tick that is about the size of a sesame seed.
The adult female tick will have one more meal in the early fall from humans, dogs, deer or competent bacterial reservoirs. Mating often takes place simultaneously with the tick’s final meal so that the tick, now fully engorged, is also pregnant. She will lay her eggs the following spring after a period of dormancy, and the lifecycle repeats itself.
Remember, the mother cannot pass the bacteria along to her offspring. The larvae are always born bacteria-free.
This results in more ticks next year and more opportunities to transmit Lyme disease to humans – and dogs.
In the next issue of For Your Consideration, we will examine the history of Lyme disease and the best prevention techniques. In addition, we will take a close look at the pathology of Lyme disease and a condition called chronic Lyme disease that is quite controversial.
In the meantime, I urge you to perform a complete body scan after venturing into the woods or performing gardening activities. The deer ticks are small and easily missed, so all the better if you have a spouse or significant other to check you.
If you are vigilant in this habit, you will have little to worry about, even if you find an attached tick. It takes at least 36 hours before an infected tick can release the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria into your body.
Be sure to take care in how you remove the tick. The goal is not to rupture any part of the tick’s body. One tried and true method is to use tweezers to grasp the head and gently pull the tick out.
And, if you’re really ticked off at being bitten, you can drop the little b#$%&@d into rubbing alcohol and see how long she can tread alcohol.
Not long, as it turns out.