Sunday, June 2, 2013

Tick Tock

Maine’s rapidly warming climate will eventually create large-scale issues and problems for its citizens the depth of which we can barely fathom. At this point, we are just beginning to see the first of these growing issues beginning to take shape. Even a small increase in world temperature and here in Maine we are seeing a “weirding” of the weather that includes heavier snowfalls, hotter summers and lakes experiencing ice out a full month shorter than two decades ago. The problem with Maine becoming hotter is that many of the insects that destroy crops and are harbingers of disease causing viruses and bacterium are no longer being killed by our winters. This fact is causing the normal system of natural checks and balances to no longer be functional. Additionally, invasive species, which would have previously perished in Maine’s environment, now find the state a very comfortable home.

As mentioned previously, the obvious implications this will have on Maine’s people is huge and to illustrate this critical point, we need to look no further than Ixodes scapularis or the common deer tick. It is difficult to now think of a Maine that at one time did not have infectious Lyme disease carrying deer ticks. Yet, only a few short decades ago finding a tick embedded in your skin would have been a rare event. Now, a simple walk outside on the lawn will typically have Mainers encountering ticks on almost every outing.

One bite from a tick carrying Lyme disease has the potential to completely destroy the health and well being of an individual and has even in some cases caused death. With one in four deer ticks carry Lyme disease, according to Jim Dill, pest management specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, it is imperative that Maine residents are properly prepared to address the tick issue.

Being prepared, means Mainers must take the steps necessary to control the tick infestation and additionally protect the human population. Unfortunately, ticks are extremely resilient creatures and only able to be controlled on a very limited basis. Large-scale chemical insecticide spraying operations to contain their spread are both costly and widely ineffective. At this time, ticks have no known natural predatory enemies or host-specific pathogens that could be employed to increase their mortality rates, thereby decreasing their overall numbers. Ticks can be controlled with limited “residential” success by employing the use of guinea hens that are capable of eating ticks large numbers and controlling their spread on personal properties.

The alternative to the unachievable task of eradication is to keep ticks from coming into direct contact with human, pets and livestock. This seemingly impossible undertaking is supported by Maine’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Maine Medical Center Lyme Disease Research Laboratory who both recommend education, awareness and the implementation of personal preventative measures, as the primary methods of battling this invading arachnid. The Maine CDC and Maine Medical Center suggest tick avoidance, use of protective clothing, employment of a specialized tick repellent and daily tick checks, as the four primary means of decreasing the chances of a human/tick encounter. While Maine has taken many steps to ensure its population is educated on the dangers of tick borne contagions, many Mainers still do not take the steps necessary to properly protect themselves against the dangers of Lyme disease.

In order for Mainers to protect themselves, there needs to be a wide scale investment of education and research into this topic. Including continued education of the overall population, further testing and exploration into the use of a human Lyme disease vaccine and research into biological, chemical and tick specific pathogens. These multiple tiers of protection will perhaps offer a means of potentially slowing Maine’s infectious invaders in this new “hot” environment.

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