In his “Introduction to Birding” talk last week at the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, Don Mairs included a warning about ticks. Some in the audience were surprised. They were there to learn about binoculars, bird books, and birding techniques. Few realized those who enjoy Maine’s outdoor activities must be fully knowledgeable about and prepared to deal with ticks.
I joined in the discussion, having personal experience with ticks embedded in my skin and several friends suffering with Lyme disease. If you need to be scared into action, read my review of the book “A Twist of Lyme” at www.georgesmithmaine.com. Better yet, read the book.
This story is gut-wrenching, raw, hard to read, relentlessly troubling. Subtitled “Battling a Disease That â€˜Doesn’t Exist,’” the book is a collection of author Andrea Caesar’s blog posts as she fought the disease with astonishing toughness and determination.
But don’t be fooled — there’s no happy ending. Caesar is still alive, and still blogging, but her battle with Lyme disease will last her lifetime.
Taking 50 or more pills a day, suffering through surgeries and lots of experimental trials, encountering huge expenses, leaning heavily on her parents to care for her and her young daughter, Caesar’s life has been one long roller coaster ride.
I will guarantee you one thing. You will grow to admire Andrea Caesar, who punched through life, traveling the world, succeeding in business, and bringing up a child, while suffering a debilitating, painful, horrible disease. This is an amazing story.
The most important advice I can give you is this: Buy a bunch of those small plastic spoons with the slit that can easily extract ticks that are embedded in your skin. Drugstores carry them. While the standard advice is to use tweezers, they don’t always extract the entire tick out of your skin. And it is critically important that you do that.
You should also contact your legislators to urge their support for an $8 million bond issue to construct a diagnostic lab at the University of Maine in Orono. Among many other things, the lab will be able to test ticks for Lyme disease. Today those tests can only be conducted out of state, and any delay in identifying the possibility of Lyme disease threatens your health.
The lab will also be able to provide many other services, but in my mind and my world, this is the most important. UMaine’s current lab is old and small. Maine doctors are sending them a lot of ticks for identification, but that’s all they get. The lab can’t tell the doctor if the tick was carrying Lyme.
I talked with Rep. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, last week about the bond issue and ticks. Jim is a UMaine professor and one of our state’s top insect experts. What he told me is frightening. Cases of Lyme are growing rapidly.
There are 14 different ticks in Maine. Dog and moose ticks are large. The other 12 are tiny and very similar. The deer tick that carries Lyme disease is now distributed statewide. Seventy percent of the deer ticks in southern Maine have Lyme, while that percentage diminishes as you go north.
Turkey hunting this spring, I will be guaranteed to come home with ticks. If you discover and extract them quickly, you’ll probably be OK. If they are embedded for 24 to 48 hours, you’ll need a single pill of antibiotic. Longer than that and you’ll need a 10-day supply of the antibiotic.
I’ve had the single pill twice and the 10-day regimen twice. But please don’t think ticks are only a problem for hunters. Lin gets them while gardening. Her students bring them in from recess. And as Don Mairs wisely told his birding audience, anyone who spends time outside is susceptible to this new plague.
While Lyme disease should frighten you into action, the news does get worse. Last November, one of our favorite Maine artists, Lyn Snow of Owls Head, entered the hospital with a tick embedded in her shoulder. Within two days she became delirious. And she never left the hospital, dying five weeks later.
For much of her hospitalization, she was treated for Lyme. But she had gotten the Powasson virus from that tick. Woodchucks normally carry this virus, not ticks. And there is no cure.
Given that many of us live our lives outdoors, it is only prudent to be prepared. Get those spoons today. Put them everywhere. Be prepared.