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Tick Talk!


JW: You're spending some quality time outdoors, maybe in the garden or walking in the woods. And of course there are some other little critters out there too--also enjoying Mother Nature. Some of them may be annoying, but some of them may be harmful. I'm Judy Wagley. This is “From the Ground Up!” Mike LeValley is the executive director of the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy, and spends most of his waking moments outdoors. Thanks for visiting today, Mike.

ML: Thanks for having me.

Judy Wagley

JW: Mike, we mentioned harmful critters-- I'm thinking about ticks. Why are they such a concern?

ML: Ticks are a concern for people because they can spread harmful diseases. I mean, they have that “ick factor” too, but ticks spread a number of diseases that go from wildlife to human beings. The one that most people know about is Lyme disease and it's, you know, found all over where there is a species of tick called the black legged tick or the deer tick, and it's carried by both deer and mice. Mice are actually the species that has Lyme disease and gives to the tick, and then it gets transferred to people.

JW: Oh, it starts with the mouse, then it goes to the tick, then it goes to people…

ML: Yeah, absolutely. And there's a couple of other species that we do have to worry about. There's a dog tick that's really common, that deer and other species do service hosts. That doesn't carry Lyme disease, but there's a couple other diseases. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is one disease that people might have heard of. And then there's another one I can't remember the name for, but it's also called rabbit fever and both of those can be transferred to people. And then there's a couple of other species of ticks that are just now really emerging in Michigan, one in particular, the Lone Star tick, that is just really starting to appear here in the state-- that again carries its own suite of diseases that people have to worry about.

JW: Is there a season for ticks?

ML: You know, as long as it is warm enough outside there, there will be ticks. I found my first tick a couple weeks ago. Typically you don't have to worry about them in the winter, but anytime you know the ground is thawed and the ticks are warm enough to be active, they're out there doing their thing, where they're questing for a new host ---is essentially what they're doing. So they'll climb up on a high piece of vegetation and wait for a deer or a person or a dog to walk by and latch on.

JW: How do ticks get here? How do they reproduce?

ML: Ticks actually need a meal of blood for the females to be able to produce eggs, so that's essentially what they're doing when they're, you know, going to an animal. They feed on the blood in general, but that female in particular, she needs a blood meal in order to be able to produce eggs. The proteins and such that are involved in that. And it's the same for, you know, mosquitoes. So that female tick, when she's mature and she's ready to lay eggs, she's gotta find a host. That might be your dog. Maybe that tick can't transfer a disease to your dog, but it's there to feed and you know very often that tick that's on your dog can drop off in your house and then be transferred to you as well. So you know we don't just have to watch out for ourselves, but we have to watch out for our pets as well. And you asked about a season-- in a mild winter, it can be year-round. It used to be we had a nice cold snap in the winter that would kill off a lot of ticks. If we have a mild winter, they may not drop off, and the population in the spring may be quite high compared to what we are expecting.

JW: A mild winter, like we just had. Mike, you mentioned that “ick factor,” yeah, you were right about that! So what are we looking for?

ML: So when I'm out there, there's a number of things that I can do to avoid ticks. In particular, they like tall vegetation. You know, if you think about, like your lawn, if it's kept closely mowed, that's probably not a good habitat for ticks. But if you have shrubbery along the edges, tall grasses, you know, that's where they're going to hang out. If you're walking in a park or a nature preserve and you're walking down the middle of the trail, you're probably not going to run into a tick. Then when you go off trail, that's where you get them. I mean, I stopped counting last year when I reached the double digits for the number of ticks that I had found on myself. I think every single one of them I can pinpoint to a point where I was off trail doing some work. It wasn't like I was just following the trail and picked up a tick. The one this year--again I was off trail. To avoid the ticks-- stay on the trails. You know, stay away from those areas of high vegetation--the shrubs and tall grasses. There's you know you can dress in ways that will help you prevent the ticks from getting to your skin. A lot of people will tuck their pants into their socks. I always tuck my shirt into my pants, so that makes it more difficult for a tick to, you know, get around my clothing and attach on to me. A lot of people have said over the years you should wear light clothing so you can see the ticks easier.

JW: Light-colored clothing?

ML: Light- colored clothing so you can see the ticks easier. There was actually some research done a couple of years ago that showed that ticks are more attracted to light clothing, so you might notice them, but they're more attracted to that light colored clothing.

JW: Do you know when they land on you? Can you feel it?

ML: You know, for me personally, most of the ticks that I get on me, I notice-- I look down like at my pant leg and I'll see one crawling up it on the outside of the pant leg. Another case where I usually find them is crawling on my neck. You know, they've gotten on my clothes, and that's the first point where they can reach skin, and I have short hair and I can feel them crawling there. I don't tuck my pants into my socks cause I wear high socks and I will feel one crawling like on the back of my knee. And the those are places that you need to look, you know, the back of your knee, around your waist, in your groin and on your head and around your ears. Those are places where you're most likely to find a tick attach on your body.

JW: Can you shoo it off right away and be OK?

ML: Yeah, I have only had one tick out of the several dozen that I've had on me actually attach and it was just a case where I missed it. They recommend before you leave wherever you're at, do a quick tick check. When you get home, do a more thorough check. They say if you take a shower within two hours, you're probably going to find most of the ticks. You know it gives you an opportunity to examine yourself and also, you know, you just feel that sometimes when you're in the shower. I usually feel them on me. Other people may not necessarily, depending on how sensitive your skin is.

JW: Once it's on your skin and it attaches, how long does it take before you notice any potential problem?

ML: So the research shows it takes several hours for a disease, typically. Well, some diseases take several hours to transfer. Some of the more emerging diseases can be transferred quicker. If you want to find the research on that, the CDC has some good information, so does the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. But in general, it takes a couple hours for a tick to start transmitting a disease to a person that it's on and attached to. That's why they say that two-hour period. If you get a shower when you get home and even if one is attached in that short amount of time, it's probably not transmitting disease at that point in time. So the sooner you find them, the better. If you do find one attached, there are some commercial tick removers-- or just a pair of fine needle- nose tweezers. Grasp it around the mouthpiece and gently pull. You don't want to twist or anything like that, because then there's a danger of breaking off a piece and getting a secondary infection.

JW: “Ick factor” for sure, Mike. But I think you would agree that we should not let that keep us from getting outdoors and enjoying Mother Nature.

ML: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely not. You know, your chances of encountering a tick in most places are fairly small to begin with, and there's steps like checking yourself, and using insect repellent that will help you keep yourself safe from ticks.

JW: And stay on the trail!

ML: And stay on the trails, absolutely.

JW: Mike LeValley-- executive director for the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy. Thanks for joining me today for “From the Ground Up!”

ML: Thanks, Judy.

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Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.