On May 10 we had a fascinating and useful presentation by Dr. Jennifer Platt on ticks and tick-diseases focused on Chatham County.
These are the notes I gathered from Dr. Platt’s lecture, in case you missed the presentation. Do not rely on these notes for safety or medical advice!
Links to the presentation slides and a video are at the bottom of this article.
- Not everyone who goes into the woods gets a tick bite and not every tick bite causes disease. It is ok to go into nature but take precautions.
- Almost all are ticks in Chatham are lone star ticks.
- Lyme disease is more common in the NC mountains. The national focus is on Lyme disease, not some other deadly diseases common in Chatham. Chatham Lyme disease has been at a low level the past few years.
- Kids less than 10 and adults more than 70 are especially at risk of spotted fevers that can be deadly. Antibiotics may be urgently needed before blood work comes back.
- Alpha-gal is in the tick itself. The tick isn’t spreading it from other animals to humans. All ticks everywhere can carry alpha-gal.
- Tick tubes (containing cotton impregnated with permethrin) are not very helpful, because small mammals are not the problem in Chatham.
- Squirrels, mice and other medium size mammals are not a great source of enough blood for ticks to bite and mature.
- Large mammals like deer are the tick factories. Do not encourage deer to be in the areas you visit. For example, do not feed the deer!
- Spray repellent around your lawn border with your woods to keep ticks from migrating onto your lawn.
- Treat your shoes with permethrin to help prevent ticks.
- Bag and tag your ticks with the date, and freeze them.
- Dryer heat can kill ticks. Freezing and drowning are not reliable methods.
- Fire ants good pests to help with ticks.
- Only pull-out w tweezers, no fire or alcohol. That makes ticks vomit diseases into you.
- Try not to touch a tick if you find one, but at least wash hands after.
- Donate to TBCU which funds education and research into tick diseases.
- Tick Warriors have a chemical tick immobilizer/repellent developed by NC State.
Ticks have been around for millions of years. They are actually arachnids (8 legs), not an insects (six legs), but ticks do have only 6 legs when they are larvae. Ticks can bite and spread disease during all stages of life.
Ticks are found on every continent including Antarctica. They are very robust little creatures and can survive underwater and freezing for a while. They are found in all 12 months of the year in Chatham.
Chatham County, NC is ‘Tick Central’. There is a 20x higher incidence of tick disease in Chatham than elsewhere in the state. In one survey, 90% of respondents in Chatham reported a tick bite in their household in the past year.
Deer are ‘tick factories’. Ticks don’t really make that much progress toward maturity on a squirrel or mouse, but they love, love, love deer. Deer populations are generally too high in Chatham, but if you love to look at deer, you might still not want them on your property where they can drop ticks.
A tick mother drops a cluster of eggs as a sticky mass, which then hatches into thousands of tiny tick larvae. Tiny ticks look a bit like chiggers, but a bit larger. They can leave a similar set of bites. Chiggers very tiny and are red. It is possible to step into an area where the tiny ticks just hatched, a tick ‘nest’, and get many bites at the same time.
The most important ticks in Chatham are: lone star, black legged, and dog tick. The lone star is by far the most prevalent (98%) and is active April-September.
The 4 most important diseases that ticks bring to NC are:
- Alpha-gal syndrome (lone star, maybe all species?)
- Ehrlichiosis (lone star and black legged ticks)
- Lyme disease (black legged ticks) and STARI/Southern Lyme (lone star) <– these are difficult to tell apart
- Spotted Fevers, the Rickettsias (dog ticks, lone star-maybe)
Rates of disease in Chatham County (this is why we are “Tick Central”):
- Spotted Fevers (16+ out of 100,000 people)
- Ehrlichiosis (8-16 out of 100,000 people)
Spotted fevers and ehrlichiosis are each 20+ times more likely than the state average!
Lyme in the past few years had a very low incidence in Chatham.
Researchers are still gathering data on Alpha-gal, but it looks relatively common. In one survey the rate of disease was 3%. [3% would be 3,000 per 100,000 people]
Alpha-gal syndrome is a condition that triggers a red-meat allergy, but this allergy is completely unlike any other food allergy, for example the allergic reaction shows up several hours after eating. All other food allergies are due to a protein. Alpha-gal allergy is due to a carbohydrate (sugar). The symptoms can follow several hours after eating red meat. The symptoms are widely varied, ranging from hives to anaphylaxis (breathing restriction that can be deadly). There is a blood test for Alpha-gal: “Galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose (Alpha-gal) IgE, Viracor Test Code: 30039 / Lab Corp: 650003, Viracor Eurofins Clinical Diagnostics, (800) 305-5198”.
In conducting surveys of ticks, it appears that areas in close proximity will have huge differences in numbers of ticks. This may be due to the presence of tick predators in some areas. Fire ants love to eat tick larvae. You should think twice about killing them. Perhaps kill them only in areas you frequently walk. Opossums and chickens eat ticks also.
If you find a tick on you, try not to touch it directly with your fingers. If you must, be sure to wash your hands afterwards.
Do not use alcohol, fire, nail polish, etc. on the tick to remove it. These will make the tick vomit/defecate and the expelled material can easily go into your tick bite to cause an infection. Use sharp tweezers and pull the tick out carefully to remove it. Grab the tick right at the bite site, at skin level. Slowly tug it out. Clean the bite area thoroughly. Bag the tick, label it and freeze it. Keep it for 3 months in case you have been infected. (Depending on the disease, it can take 3 days to 10 weeks for symptoms to show.) The freezer will preserve it. This can be useful for later identifying the type of tick and correlating the contact date with any disease symptoms that develop.
Ticks are hard to kill. Dryer heat will kill ticks on your clothes.
Help prevent ticks in your yard by spraying repellent around the border of your lawn and woods. DEET works somewhat to repel them on your skin. Permethrin can be sprayed on clothes. Definitely useful to spray your shoes. Tick Warriors sells other chemicals that are plant-based.
Check yourself for ticks periodically and before coming inside.
Check pets for ticks or use a preventative on them. Pets can carry ticks inside where the ticks might find humans more interesting to bite.