When he finally dragged me out camping upstate for the first time, my husband tucked his socks into his trousers and his shirt into his Christmas tree pyjamas, because NOBODY wants Lyme disease. Consequently, I had never seen a tick on him before last week. It was a wood tick that I had not expected to be that large because local lore has it that they are everywhere and that the nymphs are about as visible as specks of dust.
Word is that ticks are in ever-increasing abundance up here in the mountains. Everybody’s talking about it this year. In years past they were rife in nearby areas like Long Island, further upstate and Connecticut, but not in the mountains. Having pulled only one tick off my dog this year, I feel like we’re dodging bullets left and right. Either Frontline must really effective or we just live in the last holdout in the war against the critters. In the eight years that I’ve lived in the Catskills, I have never seen a tick on myself because when I’m walking around in tall grass or hiking, I tuck my trousers into my socks. Even when it’s hot I wear socks with sandals and then spray with DEET. It’s deeply unfashionable. I also don’t allow the dog in the bedroom or bathroom during summer time and check him for ticks before he comes into the house. I vacuum religiously and we encourage the dog to stay out of the long grass.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that ticks must not like me at all because on a trip into the woods with a pal from the NYNJ Trail Conference, she emerged with ticks and I came out with none. It’s possible that the ticks were blinded by my ghostly, English pallor. That’s actually not much of a joke because some authorities suggest you wear white clothing while hiking so you can spot black-legged ticks that are about the size of a poppy seed.
The subject is on a stratospheric rise in the media too. Many journalists and New York City media outlets like New York Magazine are weighing in. Lyme is being reported on this year like an untracked epidemic and there are doctors who are now devoting their whole practice to the illness. The disease is the universal mimic and can look like many other diseases therefore misdiagnoses have allegedly been common. The key is to catch the infection in its early stages. One major sign is the bull’s eye rash, but reportedly 50% of sufferers did not see a rash or remember getting bitten. There are also many types of Lyme and it often comes with additional accompanying bacterial infections that are only just being discovered, so a person with symptoms must get tested for all manner of strains. Lyme is by far the most frightening of chronic conditions I’ve seen because it looks so thoroughly debilitating, sounding something like a cross between influenza, severe migraines, arthritis, and heart disease. Living in the mountains now means taking all the precautions one can and reading as much as one is able. Familiarize yourself with the various types of ticks and their behaviours and be scrupulously careful out there. Here’s some more useful information from the CDC, the New Yorker, the NY Daily News, New York State, Cornell University, and The New York Times. Feel free to add anything further or more useful in the comments section.