Safety Message: Be Smart About Ticks

Above, Dog Tick – Photo by Dann Thombs via Flickr, CC by-nc-nd

This past winter was terrible for us humans.  To add insult to injury, it was great for ticks.  Ticks can stay insulated under the snow, and the excess moisture gives them all they need to thrive.  As we move into spring and summer, it’s time to start thinking about how to stay safe from ticks when you hit the trails.

Types of Ticks

Deer Ticks

Adult Deer Tick

Adult Deer Tick – Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA

Deer ticks (right) are responsible for causing Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. About 25% to 30% of the nymph-stage deer ticks in the New England are naturally infected with Lyme disease. Nearly all of these infected ticks will cause Lyme if not removed. Both nymph (young) and adult deer ticks will bite humans. The highest risk of being bitten by a deer tick occurs throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons. However, adults can also be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing. Deer tick nymphs are the size of a poppy seed and deer tick adults are the size of a sesame seed.

Dog Ticks

Dog ticks (photo at top) are responsible for causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever and certain types of tularemia. In general, only the adult dog tick will bite humans. The highest risk of being bitten by a dog tick occurs during the spring and summer seasons. Dog ticks adults are about the size of a watermelon seed.

Tips for Avoiding Them

Before You Leave Home

  • Discuss ticks – Make sure everyone you are hiking with is aware of the dangers and knows how to stay safe.
  • Clothing – No sandals, wear high socks and long pants – Pull socks over pant legs – Wear long sleeve shirt, hats, light colored clothing.
  • Pretreat clothing – Socks, long pants, and shirt can be sprayed with Permethrin and then let dry 2 to 4 hours.  Permethrin binds tightly to clothing and once dry will not get on your skin. Permethrin kills ticks on contact with treated clothing. Permethrin treatment lasts for 6 washings or 6 weeks.  Store treated clothing in a plastic bag and hand wash and dry at low temp.

On The Trails

  • Use bug repellent – Children over 2 months of age can use 10-15% DEET to repel ticks – Spray boots, clothing and exposed skin.  Do not spray face.
  • Stay on trails – Do not hike off trail in high brush, weeds or grass.  Do not sit or lie in leaf litter.

After Your Hike

  • Perform tick check – Divide group into buddies and perform tick-check at end of hike – ticks are tiny, so look for new “freckles” in the following places:

– Inside and behind the ears
– Along your hairline
– Back of your neck
– Armpits
– Groin
– Legs
– Behind your knees
– Between your toes

  • Perform your check as soon as possible – the risk of Lyme Disease increases with a longer attachment time.
Lyme Disease Graph



What To Do If You Find A Tick

If bitten by a tick, use a “TickEase Tick Remover” with slotted scoop and thin tweezers to remove tick. Try to avoid squeezing the tick’s body to prevent from injecting yourself with the virus.

Scotch tape the tick to a white card.  Get the tick tested for Lyme disease. For testing see following two resources:

  • Mass. Dept. of Heath is a good source of info
  • Jennifer Murphy – Winchester Board of Health, 781-721-7121 – does free testing for town residents – just scotch-tape tick to a note card and deliver it to Jennifer.
  • Lyme Disease What Is It?”- Sponaugle Wellness (Fla.)
  • See also “Being Outdoors” information on Friends of the Fells youth programs site

H/T to our super volunteers Dennis Crouse and Laurie Adamson for the info in this post. 

On Saturday, Danielle McClean over at Wicked Local Winchester reported that there have been “mixed reviews” of the decision by the city of Winchester to open the North Reservoir path in the Fells to hikers and dogs.  McClean writes:

[Jim] Gibbons, the town’s acting water and sewer operations manager,] said the decision to open the North Reservoir path was not backed by the town’s Water Department. He and his colleagues feared opening it up would risk contaminating the water with diseases such as cryptosporidium and coliform bacteria. He said the reservoirs have historically produced clean water. “You don’t want to make it worse and by putting people or dogs in the water you are taking a step toward it,” he said.

Gibbons is concerned about the effect of dogs jumping in the reservoir.

For the opposing view, McClean cites John Shawcross, “a retired water engineer and member of the committee tasked with studying the effects of increased access to the Fells reservoirs.”  Here’s what Shawcross had to say about any risk to the water supply:

Shawcross said it would be safe to open up the Middle Reservoir, but the town pulls water directly from the South Reservoir, which is why that one should remain closed. Water from the North Reservoir travels to the Middle Reservoir before spilling into the South Reservoir; it takes at least a year for water to travel to the water treatment plant from those areas, allowing the water to be subject to a natural cleaning process.

So when she points to “mixed reviews”, what McClean is really talking about are differing opinions among experts about what the potential health effects of the decision will be.  McClean talked to one person walking with her kid and her dogs on the North Reservoir path, but we really don’t see the public’s view of the decision reported here.

Given the differing opinions from the water experts, what do you think about the decision to open the North Reservoir path?  Is the added access to a previously restricted area of the Fells worth the risk?  Have you made use of the North Reservoir path since it opened?  Have you seen anyone engaging in activities that could contaminate the water?  Use the comments section below to leave your thoughts so we can really get a sense of what the reviews are for the current state of the North Reservoir path.

[Top Photo: Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ann Ringwood, Buy Photo]