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The rise of the tick
May 2, 2013 9:28 AM   Subscribe

With incisor-like claws that can tunnel beneath your skin in seconds, ticks are rapidly establishing themselves as the Swiss Army knife of disease vectors. Carl Zimmer walks into the woods to find out why these tiny beasts appear to be skyrocketing in number – and outsmarting environmental scientists trying to control them with every bite.
posted by Blasdelb (79 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
My Highly Scientific Conclusion: nature is bad and wants to eat us so we should eat it first. (see last week's caterpillar eating FPP for more information.)

Also if anything ever bites me and makes me allergic to meat I will hunt that thing down and burn it off the face of the earth. Ticks, you are on notice.
posted by elizardbits at 9:36 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


if anything ever bites me and makes me allergic to meat

May this power never be harnessed.
posted by Malice at 9:37 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, we should definitely subjugate nature to Man's Will because that kind of thing has never gotten us into any trouble before.
posted by DU at 9:38 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, my comment was in no way noticeably hyperbolic and should absolutely be taken as a valid suggestion of how humans should behave within the natural world. It is also exactly what will happen because I am the Nature Emperor and what I say goes.
posted by elizardbits at 9:41 AM on May 2, 2013 [28 favorites]


So "ironic" jokes are OK again?
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on May 2, 2013


Lyme is just a stone cold bummer for outdoorsy people. It's like the AIDS of hiking.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:47 AM on May 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yes, we should definitely subjugate nature to Man's Will because that kind of thing has never gotten us into any trouble before.

I am sure someone is weaponizing ticks right now. Once they get it hooked into Skynet, we will be in a freakin' paradise, man!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:49 AM on May 2, 2013


So "ironic" jokes are OK again?

Are you "serious"?
posted by yoink at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


The hell with ticks. Those little bastards. They're enough to have me seriously considering toleration of the batshit insane vocalizations of guinea fowl, who are said to consume ticks by the bushel.
posted by jquinby at 9:52 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not even just the outdoorsy people who are in danger at this point, it seems? Because as the ticky habitat expands to pretty much everywhere that is outside and has available animal carriers, people who wouldn't necessarily consider themselves "outdoorsy" or "hikers" will end up being affected.

Over the course of a few days, a feeding tick cycles between drinking and drooling

this is cracking me up far more than it should.

posted by elizardbits at 9:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this. I have a summer place that is basically another Lyme Disease Central place on the south cost of Massachusetts and tick checks have become part of my routine. The most important piece of information that I got about Lyme, which has really helped quell my hypochondriac nature about these things was this, from another related Outside article:

Early prevention is key. If you remove a tick within the first 24 hours, the transmission rate is zero, because it takes time for the bacteria to move from the gut of the tick into your bloodstream.

I've gotten bites, I've picked ticks off of me, I've not gotten Lyme so far. Hoping to stay that way.
posted by jessamyn at 9:54 AM on May 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why does every article about bugs have to show lots of enlarged photos of bugs? That article made me itch for several hours, and I had to use the finetooth comb on the dog, because he's a tick magnet.
posted by theora55 at 9:55 AM on May 2, 2013


"SPOON!"
posted by mfu at 9:55 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lordy, gents! Your banter is immaculate and a pleasure to witness!
posted by hal9k at 9:56 AM on May 2, 2013


The neighbors have chickens and ducks that patrol our yard constantly, and we also have wild turkeys in the woods behind the house... so ticks have been blessedly absent. (Mosquitos are out of control, tho.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:56 AM on May 2, 2013


We've had to pull two dead ones off our aging wiener dog - they latch on and then the Trifexis does them in. If only our bats ate the damn things!
posted by charred husk at 10:07 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I did survey in the southeast, we got sort of blase about ticks because they were everywhere. We did self- and friend- inspections every night as part of the routine after-work ritual. But I still recall vividly the first time a tick ball burst all over my bare arm, and I had to scrape them off with a trowel. Loads of tiny deer ticks, all gathered in a group on the underside of a leaf, and they just let go when I brushed it with my arm. :shudder: Still gives me the creepy-crawlies.
posted by gemmy at 10:08 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Early prevention is key. If you remove a tick within the first 24 hours, the transmission rate is zero, because it takes time for the bacteria to move from the gut of the tick into your bloodstream."

I've gotten bites, I've picked ticks off of me, I've not gotten Lyme so far. Hoping to stay that way.


The scary thing about Lyme is that the little deer tick nymphs that are thought to be the main vector to humans are about the size of the head of a pin. Finding things that size is not exactly in my wheelhouse.

Here in Minnesota, Lyme is a pretty bad problem, with May and June being the worst months. I've had a few friends that have contracted it and it's really unpleasant. Compounding it is that the symptoms are things other people like to discount: being super exhausted as well as depressed.

Reeeeally want to avoid Lyme.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:08 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spooooon!!

No spoooooon?!
posted by markkraft at 10:09 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure the increased range of certain ticks that carry, say Lymes, is directly attributable to climate change. 18 years ago I moved to this place and the Lymes' line (so to speak) was about 30 miles south of here, and had been for.. well forever. Now, I am informed it's about 30 miles north of here. That's about 60 miles in 20 years. Climate Change is here folks, the rest of the ecosystem is trying to adjust and we're still thinking as if it was the 1960's. Meanwhile the oil patch under North Dakota was recently estimated to be about 2x the size originally thought. (It already is like driving into Mordor going along I94 at night with all the off gassing) and CO2 is at it's highest levels in 3 million years, we might as well start passing out the fiddles for what was normal. Storms and disease (and CHEAP GAS) pervades our future.
posted by edgeways at 10:10 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


opossums are disastrous for black-legged ticks. Their immune systems kill off the pathogens that carry Lyme far more effectively than other species’ do, and they carefully groom their skin and devour any ticks they come across. A single opossum may kill 5,000 ticks every week.

Hell yeah Opossum
posted by stbalbach at 10:11 AM on May 2, 2013 [17 favorites]


Adding to the revulsion factor... the dinosaurs? Yeah, they may have been killed off by disease carrying ticks and other bitey-bugs.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:20 AM on May 2, 2013


Hell yeah Opossum

And bats! Sure, bats don't eat ticks, but each bat is something like 8oz of bugs a night. So, thank you bats and opossums!

(Although bats are cute and opossums, well, even their moms talk about their "good character.")
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:21 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, what is with opossum tails. It's like every one of them has Jabba the Hutt stuck up its ass.
posted by invitapriore at 10:25 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am pretty sure the increased range of certain ticks that carry, say Lymes, is directly attributable to climate change.
Sure, but after we boil the ocean and turn all of our formerly arable land into desert, the ticks should die off, right?
posted by b1tr0t at 10:28 AM on May 2, 2013


I'm with jquinby - anything that eats lots of ticks is ok with me. Especially if they're also edible. The guinea is also considered dark meat, thus making its carcass the foundation to rich and flavorful stocks. Guinea fowl are sometimes used to control ticks.

I'm not seeing any downsides here, people.
posted by sneebler at 10:29 AM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I went camping with my dog, then just a puppy, at the end of the season a few years ago. We had hiked a short stretch of the AT that had a sign cautioning about ticks and Lyme. It was cold--below freezing at night--and I had assumed that would kill the ticks off. When we got to camp that night, I noticed one on her ear and picked it off. Jeez, I thought, that could have been bad! And then I saw another on her neck. And another. And another.

I removed about 30 from this sweet little lab mix, who I'd just adopted a few months earlier. We had another night planned in the trip, but I was so freaked out by the ticks (and the fact that finding a black, disease-wielding saboteur in the black fur of a bounyc pup by the light of a campfire is nearly impossible) that I found us a motel near the campsite that would allow pets. It reeked of stale cigarettes but it cost $50 a night and had, most importantly, a well lit bathroom.

The whole drive over there, I was finding ticks in the car, on the upholstery, on the gear shift. She was INFESTED. At the motel, I spent another hour combing her fur and removing another two dozen of those little motherfuckers, cursing up a storm each time I found a new one. This is the first time I have had a dog and I felt like I had just fucked it all up, and I was seeing little specks everywhere I looked, even where there were none.

And then I realized: if she's got this many ticks.... I probably do, too? I stood naked in front of that bathroom mirror. Nothing, nothing... And then I raised my arms up and saw it: a plump black dot, in my right armpit. Now, I'm from California, which, despite what this article says about the spread of Lyme isn't in my experience as much of a tick haven as the northeast. I'd never had a tick before. I am not squeamish or nervous about bugs, but at that moment I had to work very hard stop myself from screaming. It was like nothing so much as the scene in Stand by Me where Gordie realizes he has a leech on his dick. And that sickening sense of realization, where he's pulling this vampiric evil out of his underwear, that's how I felt as I was trying to gingerly remove the body so as not to leave the head embedded.

Three days later, we are back at home. The pup, who is normally a vibrating little mass of ball-fetching energy, has become lethargic. I call her over to me. She struggles mightily to stand, and collapses. Maybe the saddest thing I can remember seeing, her little wobbly legs giving out.

She, of course, had Lyme disease. When I took her to the vet, they found another four ticks that had somehow escaped my first and second and third tick-checks. By this time, the little assholes were pea-sized. Antibiotics worked their magic and the dog was back to her old self two days later.

I realized in hindsight that I had lapsed on her tick and flea meds. By less than a week-- the goop is supposed to be effective for a month; I'd last given it to her 34 days before we went camping.

Lessons learned:
1. Mild frost doesn't kill ticks
2. Be vigilant about your dog's tick/flea meds if there is any chance of exposure. When that shit says one month, it means one month. (Upgraded to parastar the next year; that one has some terrifying chemical that kills the tick even after it attaches to your pup. Since they need 24-48 hours to transmit disease, it doesnt matter that they are attached to the dog for 12 hours before drinking enough dog-blood-toxin to make them drop off).
3. Ticks are the worst. Just the worst.
posted by andromache at 10:31 AM on May 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


More on topic, I've noticed that ticks seem to be everywhere now to a much greater extent than they were when I was a kid, but I don't know if that's attributable to the general increase in their population or if Missouri just has more ticks than New York does. All I'll say is that my resolve to eventually move to an alpine climate was cemented after having the experience of walking through a pasture with knee-high grass and having to flick a tick or two off of my pants with every three to five paces. Only nightmares should work that way.
posted by invitapriore at 10:33 AM on May 2, 2013


edgeways, that was my conclusion too. The park rangers I talked too said it was a very mild year, and that normally by the end of October frost should have killed most of the ticks off. Instead, they were still teeming that late in the year. Warming average temperatures definitely seems to favor them.
posted by andromache at 10:40 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Carl Zimmer walks into the woods to find out why these tiny beasts appear to be skyrocketing in number

Let me guess - climate change and global warming.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:43 AM on May 2, 2013


My sister contracted Lyme disease while hiking outside of Kamloops, about 6 hours northeast of Vancouver. The problem is that Lyme disease is new to this part of Canada, so doctors generally can't or don't diagnose it. She was lucky, though, and got antibiotics relatively early.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:45 AM on May 2, 2013


I'm one of those people who developed a meat allergy several years after a series of Missouri tick bites. For years I had no idea what might have caused the allergy to develop. The prospect of night-long bouts of hives certainly has taken away any desire I once had for eating red meat!
posted by Agave at 10:47 AM on May 2, 2013


I suppose I have every reason to be petrified of ticks, but I've found using menthol-based soap and shampoo causes them to wash away in a shower, and learning to remove them properly gets rid of the more tenacious ones. The CDC claims that the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours to have a full risk of infection. If I was going to spend a week in the backwoods I'd probably go for more intensive chemical warfare, but for me at least, it's not something I lie awake at night worrying about, even though ticks breed here in the Georgia mountains like it's their promised land.

The Screaming Heebie Jeebies that seems to be some folks' natural reaction to bugs and critters, I unfortunately have no advice for.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:48 AM on May 2, 2013


Are there human versions of that dog medicine that kills them in 12 hours? If not, why not?
posted by BeeDo at 10:55 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is interesting.
The rOspA vaccine seems to have a unique mode of action. [...] Data from animal models suggest that protective OspA antibodies from the immunized host destroy B burgdorferi in the midgut of the tick, preventing transmission to the host. The vaccine-induced protection thus occurs primarily before the B burgdorferi enters the host.
It's a little weird to think of your antibodies being ingested by the tick and killing the spirochete there, before the tick can even give it to you.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:56 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are there human versions of that dog medicine that kills them in 12 hours? If not, why not?

I think this is in the article. They talk about how there was some preventative medicine for humans but it maxed out at 80% effective and had serious side effects.
posted by jessamyn at 10:58 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The prospect of night-long bouts of hives certainly has taken away any desire I once had for eating red meat!

Oh my god, this would literally kill me. Literally. I am like a pork shark.
posted by invitapriore at 10:59 AM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's newish to our area. It was the fourth doctor visit before it was diagnosed for me, by which time, I had painful skin, was popping ibuprofen non-stop, liable to faint, more aches and pains than you can imagine, and had developed Bell's Palsy as a result.
posted by idb at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2013


Yay for the edit window. Belatedly got the actual link in there with barely a minute to spare.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2013


Are there human versions of that dog medicine that kills them in 12 hours? If not, why not?
The vaccine fared poorly. It couldn’t be given to children, who are particularly prone to ticks, and in adults it provided only about 80 percent protection. Stories about arthritis-like symptoms caused sales to plummet, and SmithKline Beecham abandoned production. We are now in the strange situation where you can get your dog vaccinated for Lyme but you can’t get vaccinated yourself.

posted by b1tr0t at 11:02 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Found a tick in the bathroom a few days ago. I am seriously tick phobic, so this was no fun. It waved it's little arms at me, waiting for me to brush close enough to hitch a ride. I ran up the stairs to get my husband to kill the nasty thing, praying it didn't disappear into a crack somewhere. It was right above the laundry hamper, suggesting it came from the outside where I had been throwing grass seed. But the thing is, I wasn't even in long grass. Fucking tick. I saw some last year to though none in the house.

I've been tick checking for days. I'm terrified of that bathroom (what if one is hiding under the toilet seat?)

My tick phobia comes from a real place too, not just a random fear... My grandparents owned a farm, and every year, we'd visit and get ticks. But one year, the worst year, we brought the dog we were dog sitting. And it must have been a bad year, because we went wandering through the fields as we always did. Came back and me, my sister, and the dog were just covered in ticks. I had at least 20. The poor dog was covered too. But what made it all the worst was that they must have gotten in our clothes and carried unattached on the dog. On the way home, they started crawling all over the car. My mom stopped on the side of the road and got as many out as she could and had us change clothes for a second time (the first time after the first tick removal incident.) Snoopy, the dog was rechecked and we headed home.

Was that the end? Oh how I wish it was. No, later that night back at home, I woke up to find a tick racing across the nightstand. I don't know what woke me up, but it did. I started screaming, and my parents came, thought I was just having nightmares until my mom saw it. We discovered several more in my room, and one more attached to me.

I now have issues with chronic fatigue and pain, and the doctors are at a loss. Diagnoses with atypical fibromyalgia. I personally suspect Lyme disease because of my tick history, but my tests have been negative. The internet has been no help, there is so much conflicting and outright fanciful ideas that I don't know where to turn. Supposedly a Lyme Literate Doctor can help, but most I've found tend to come off as the woo alternate medicine doctors so I have no idea who actually to turn to.

Yay ticks!
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:05 AM on May 2, 2013


Ticks can do far, far worse things to you than give you Lyme disease:
Tick paralysis results from inoculation of a toxin from tick salivary glands during a blood meal. The toxin causes symptoms within 2–7 days, beginning with weakness in both legs that progresses to paralysis. The paralysis ascends to the trunk, arms, and head within hours and may lead to respiratory failure and death. The disease can present as acute ataxia without muscle weakness.
Patients may report minor sensory symptoms, but constitutional signs are usually absent. Deep tendon reflexes are usually hypoactive or absent, and ophthalmoplegia and bulbar palsy can occur.
It's fairly easy to see how this might have been selected for:
Tick paralysis occurs when an engorged and gravid (egg-laden) female tick produces a neurotoxin in its salivary glands and transmits it to its host during feeding. Experiments have indicated that the greatest amount of toxin is produced between the fifth and seventh day of attachment (often initiating or increasing the severity of symptoms), although the timing may vary depending on the species of tick.
I leave to your imagination the fate of an animal which happens to go into hibernation with a gravid female attached.

Three days later, we are back at home. The pup, who is normally a vibrating little mass of ball-fetching energy, has become lethargic. I call her over to me. She struggles mightily to stand, and collapses. Maybe the saddest thing I can remember seeing, her little wobbly legs giving out.

She, of course, had Lyme disease. When I took her to the vet, they found another four ticks that had somehow escaped my first and second and third tick-checks. By this time, the little assholes were pea-sized. Antibiotics worked their magic and the dog was back to her old self two days later.


I'm thinking this might have been the paralysis rather than Lyme disease (not that she didn't have that too, of course).
posted by jamjam at 11:07 AM on May 2, 2013


On the occasions when I am bitten, I mark the site with an indeliable black pen, like a Sharpie, so that I can watch for the spreading bulls-eye, which is a sure sign of infection.

The best tick collar we've come across is the Advantix. They're supposed to be good for a month, but their effectiveness falls off rapidly after the first two weeks. R-dog is getting her first tick collar of the year in the next few days.

Ticks subjected to the vacuum of a Scanning Electron Microscope can walk away afterwards.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:11 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Supposedly a Lyme Literate Doctor can help, but most I've found tend to come off as the woo alternate medicine doctors so I have no idea who actually to turn to."

The term Lyme Literate Doctor is precisely synonymous with woo alternate medicine flavored bullshit. Diagnostics is a really counter-intuitive discipline, if you are still concerned about the possibility of having Lyme, to better understand the results of the tests you probably took I'd recommend these two booklets as an introduction to the topic:
Making Sense of Testing [PDF]
Why scans and health tests for well people aren't always a good idea.
Adverts and media reports say that people with no symptoms, nor reason to suspect they have a disease can find out what they will get in the future, “reverse the disease processes before symptoms appear”, or even discover how they will die. People are promised instant results, valuable insights and ‘peace of mind’. What many people are getting is a lot of confusion and anxiety, ongoing trips to the doctor and, sometimes, unnecessary medical procedures. The guide presents a few insights and highlights common misconceptions about having health tests and scans.

Making Sense of Screening [PDF]
A guide to weighing up the benefits and harms of health screening programmes
Public expectations about screening don't match what screening programmes can deliver. By addressing misconceptions about how screening works, its limitations and the calculation of benefits and harms, scientists and clinicians hope to bridge the gap between the active debates of the scientific community and the concerns raised by the public.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:28 AM on May 2, 2013


A friend's Great Dane developed Lyme disease partially because everyone assumed it was something else like arthritis at first. He mostly recovered but was never really the same. This was in the Jersey Shore area which I didn't think was a tick hot spot.
posted by tommasz at 11:29 AM on May 2, 2013


Ticks subjected to the vacuum of a Scanning Electron Microscope can walk away afterwards.

Did I say Yay, ticks! ?

I meant fuck ticks.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:29 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ticks subjected to the vacuum of a Scanning Electron Microscope can walk away afterwards.

Okay, I refuse to believe that images B and C are scans of a real creature rather than Blaster Master bosses.
posted by Riki tiki at 11:31 AM on May 2, 2013


No mention yet of Plum Island or other Lyme Disease conspiracy theories?

I had Lyme back in ... 2009? I haven't seen this in the literature, so I don't know how common it is, but in my case the crazy red rash that developed around the bite site changed size and shape dramatically and very quickly over the week or so I had it. You could look at it and then wait an hour and it would look completely different. Got bigger, got smaller ... solid, bullseye shape, weird whorls ... it was like an extra-slow-motion biological lava lamp. On the back of my right knee! Terrifying, but cool.

I hope someone figures out how that works and develops some kind of harmless bioengineered Lyme spinoff that lets us infect ourselves with composed moving images. Put this tick on you and a day later Casablanca starts playing in pink slow motion over the surface of your skin.
posted by brianconn at 11:32 AM on May 2, 2013


If you ever get bit by a tick, KEEP IT after you remove it. Lyme disease is notoriously hard to diagonse, and is a terrible terrible disease. It's much easier to analyze the tick than the afflicted person.
posted by gumpstump at 11:33 AM on May 2, 2013


Everytime I read one of the CDC's incidence reports I wish I could see some of the other variables.

How many people in each area have health care?
How many people in that area go to the doctor?
How many MDs in each area would actually recognize Lyme's Disease if they saw it?
What is the average income in those areas?

Also, I wish they'd show numbers within each state. I mean, California as a whole? How many of those cases were in Mendocino County vs. Los Angeles County? Texas? Those are two HUGE areas.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:35 AM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know a lot of people who have or have had Lyme's Disease and I'm in California. Do I know ALL of the people who have it or something? I'm surprised the numbers on the CDC's chart are so low.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:36 AM on May 2, 2013


Blasdelb, thanks for the links. That's precisely why I haven't pursued it more aggressively. The issue that keeps me wondering though is the sheer number of times I've been bitten by ticks. I've only had deer ticks a small number of times that I know of, but I also understand they're much easier to miss. And the last deer tick bite I had was in my early 20s, with fatigue (and other) symptoms showing up in my late 20s. So probably not. But I can't help wonder, since numerous doctors have called it atypical fibromyagia because it doesn't totally match up with the diagnostic criteria of fibromyalgia. I truly believe I'm in the wastebasket diagnosis category for the disease.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:51 AM on May 2, 2013


Lyme disease is so scary... When we called the local Cooperative extension they assured us lyme wasn't a problem in this area (southwest virginia). The local hospital on the other hand said they see cases everyday.

Which, as others have mentioned, is why i got these creatures :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mgEvD2vv78&feature=youtu.be
posted by meta87 at 11:51 AM on May 2, 2013


* skritch *
* skritch skritch *
* skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch skritch *
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 11:58 AM on May 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I know a lot of people who have or have had Lyme's Disease and I'm in California. Do I know ALL of the people who have it or something? I'm surprised the numbers on the CDC's chart are so low."

That reported cases chart you linked to, which is related to but distinct from incidence, represents only those cases of diagnosis confirmed by the current gold standard reported to the CDC. These sorts of statistics are not really intended to directly map the actual cases of Lyme, just the reported cases of Lyme, the difference between which would logically indeed affected by exactly the kinds of variables you mentioned. There are also though an awful lot of quacks, particularly in California where Lyme infestation is extremely low, who perform 'alternative' tests designed to give false positives to defraud their patients and whose results the CDC cannot trust, which will naturally create a disconnect between the number of people who believe they have contracted Lyme disease and the number of people that the CDC can reliably report have had the disease.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:02 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know that California has more quacks than usual, though I'm inclined to think the ones we have are more obviously outlandish than those in other areas. I'm thinking of three cases that required hospitalization, so conventional medicine agreed with the diagnosis, and a handful more that got the handy "bullseye" and so got a round of antibiotics right away. I wonder if the rareness of Lyme has anything to do with MDs in an area not recognizing it.

Apparently 40% of California reported cases are in the Bay Area, where I live, so that might be part of the problem. I'm a little skeptical of that, too, though. I grew up north of the Bay Area where people were covered with ticks all the time, it seemed like, but rarely saw a doctor, for a variety of reasons; there aren't that many doctors up there, self-sufficiency is taken to some absurd lengths, and poverty and unemployment (read:no insurance) abounds. These conditions exist in possibly the geographical bulk of the US. How does that bulk line up with diagnoses of this hard and relatively expensive to diagnose disease?
posted by small_ruminant at 12:58 PM on May 2, 2013


A few years ago I took my family for a hike in the woods just west of Montauk, NY. There are some sandy trails that I'm sure a few of you are familiar with. Anyway, my 24 year-old nephew was along for the stroll and I casually mentioned that everyone should watch out for ticks. He's from Buffalo, NY and apparently doesn't know from ticks.

He appeared shocked that such a creature exists and was pretty cranky about hiking in such an environment. Every few steps he would hop up into the air and slap at his legs and issue vulgarities. He referred to ticks as "the aids of the woods "(Similar to RobotVoodooPower). Channeling his inner Woody Allen, he wondered why anyone, would ever voluntarily subject themselves to such a potential outcome.

When the horrific episode was over he insisted that we stop for drinks even though the sun was still quite high in the sky. He convinced me to contact a physician friend who prescribed prophylactic antibiotics. The medication ultimately caused a bout of diarrhea.

Today, you can find my nephew striding confidently down the streets of Brooklyn.
posted by noaccident at 12:59 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, it looks like our little fence lizards can neutralize Lyme's disease, too. Since ticks love lizards, this guy thinks it's kept the disease down to low levels compared to the east coast. Y'all just need more lizards!

The comments on that page are interesting, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid it was my and my sister's job to de-tick the dog. If she (the dog) had been out in the long grass she'd have a whole new crop of them, flat brown pin-head-sized males and big grey pea-sized blood-engorged females. We had to be very particular with all the folds of her ears and between her toes. I don't know what sort of ticks they were but nobody ever mentioned Lyme disease to us; the fear was simply that an animal covered in ticks would become anaemic, which could kill it.

I mean there were enough commonplace illnesses we were likely to get - malaria, yellow fever - that we were quite blase about getting sick ourselves. We were not squeamish children and the big females give a satisfying pop if squeezed, bursting open to reveal a purplish glop of blood. We'd put the corpses, squeezed or unsqueezed, into a jam jar half-full of kerosene. Kerosene is the solvent of choice throughout West Africa.

My mother did freak out the time she found a tick between my sister's toes.

I left my Dad's house to go to college and didn't go back for years and years and years. When I did go back I had occasion to embark on a clear-out - he never throws anything out and the place was swamped with old letters, random 30-year-old notes on scraps of paper, newspapers, just about anything. The house wasn't a mess but there was so much stuff that didn't need to be there. So I turned out a room that used to be an office, and on a shelf behind some books found an old jam jar with a screw-top lid half-full of thick black liquid. I could not work out whatever the hell had been in it.

(Not until much later anyhow.)

I forgot to say, pulling a female tick off the dog carelessly meant getting out the tweezers to winkle away it's left-behind tough-jawed head. The tick's, not the dog's. Plop!
posted by glasseyes at 1:26 PM on May 2, 2013


We left the heads in our scalps. Oh, those innocent days!
posted by small_ruminant at 1:40 PM on May 2, 2013


We live with ticks, and normally it goes just fine. We get them out before 24 hours, or we get a cure before 24 hours. My gran was infected, and I calmly drove her 6 hours to a better hospital, because she was 80 and needed the best treatment, not a panic.
Recently, however, my cure was ineffective, and what happened was that the ring-shaped rash came out in a completely random part of my body months later. I still feel I have repercussions. I have become very asymmetrical, all over, which leeds to problems with pain and fatigue. I have difficulty focusing.
Right now I'm wondering whether my stress- and anxiety symptoms are actually about Lymes?

For entertainment: I think the worst was once when my daughter had a nymph between her eye-lashes. Strangely, it wasn't really the worst to get rid of, nymphs aren't that strong. But whoa, that was nasty.
posted by mumimor at 1:49 PM on May 2, 2013


opossums, well, even their moms talk about their "good character."

These seem nice.
posted by homunculus at 3:17 PM on May 2, 2013


Growing up I always heard you should burn off ticks with a match or a lighter. If you pull it off, that's dangerous.

Looks like my intel is outdated, or...? What's the verdict on this?
posted by zardoz at 4:11 PM on May 2, 2013


I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit.
posted by Xoebe at 4:37 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


small_ruminant: "Hey, it looks like our little fence lizards can neutralize Lyme's disease, too. Since ticks love lizards, this guy thinks it's kept the disease down to low levels compared to the east coast. Y'all just need more lizards!"

Yup, thank the lizards if you live in Northern Cal.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:40 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The trick I learned hiking with some surveyors in eastern Long Island (just a few miles south of Lyme Connecticut) is to wear shorts and to tightly wrap a band of duct tape, sticky side out, below your knees. It stays in place because of the contour between the knee and calf, it's not too uncomfortable if you do it right and don't tape up your leg hair, and it acts as a sticky trap for any ticks climbing upwards you catch off of tall grasses. In one afternoon of hiking along the coast in the pine barrens, between the three of us we had more than three dozen deer ticks captured on out sticky traps, plus more than a dozen we plucked off later than either fell on us from above or slipped past the duct tape defenses.
posted by peeedro at 5:17 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Growing up I always heard you should burn off ticks with a match or a lighter. If you pull it off, that's dangerous.

"Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible--not waiting for it to detach."
posted by peeedro at 5:23 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine that ticks, leeches, and bedbugs, along with that wasp that hatches inside a spider, are proof there is no God
posted by angrycat at 5:56 PM on May 2, 2013


is to wear shorts and to tightly wrap a band of duct tape,

I have a better idea. Don't hike around in shorts. Really. As I hang out in NW PeeYay (lots of Lyme round here) and see all these athletic outdoorsy types with their back packs and granola bars marching through the weeds in their fancy short pants, I want to scream "What are you CRAZY? Do you know where you are?? Have you never heard of deer ticks?!?"

Look guys. in the brush and the woods, its high top shoes, long pants closed with rubber bands against the shoes, and long sleeve shirts. 'Cos otherwise, you're running a much bigger risk of something that's a lot like a bad case of flu that goes on for months.

Be careful out there.
posted by tommyD at 7:13 PM on May 2, 2013


I am always baffled by people who didn't encounter ticks as children. I'm 49, grew up all over the east coast of the US from Connecticut to South Carolina and almost every single spring, summer and fall day my brother and the dogs and I all had to be de-ticked. We kept a tick jar half full of rubbing alcohol and dropped the ticks into it - by the end of the summer it was truly, but truly, disgusting. I followed the same rituals with my own children. Maryland is the most tick infested place I've ever lived and an hour out by Gunpowder Falls will inevitably net you some 10 ticks, easy. A lot of the time you can find them before they dig in, while they're walking around trying to find a good spot. Eeeerp. I casually pulled one out of my hair during a meeting once and just sort of smushed it. Nobody ever said anything - realistically, what the hell were they going to say? It was some kind of arts board meeting, too. I found one on my small son's penis once; that was a bad moment for us both. He had the ring rash once as well and we did the immediate antibiotics.

To remove a tick, grab it with your fingernails just where it has dug into the skin and pull straight out. If the head breaks off you have to put rubbing alcohol on it or another tick will grow - this may be folklore but it scared us. Then you burn them, which is fun, partly because it was a parentally sanctioned use of matches or lighter or drop them into the tick jar. Nothing else will kill them; they're almost impossible to smash. You can shred them with your nails, maybe.

I have several friends who are suffering horribly with Lymes. It's an awful, awful disease and the uncertainty of it makes it even worse. Do you have Lymes? Yes, no, maybe. Will antibiotics work? Yes, no, maybe. It's horrific.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:36 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


b1tr0t: "Sure, but after we boil the ocean and turn all of our formerly arable land into desert, the ticks should die off, right?"

That's the beauty of it!
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:00 PM on May 2, 2013


I vaguely remembered reading about people who would deliberately infect themselves with malaria in an attempt to defeat lyme disease by inducing a strong sustained fever. QuackWatch says it's a bunk approach and has no evidence of success, and is apparently a hand-me-down remedy from the time when syphilis was rampant. The spirochetes in both diseases are similar and the symptoms of lyme disease can apparently be pretty debilitating in the long term for some people, to the point where they might seek extreme ends, and I'd imagine there'd be a strong placebo effect if you were depressed from chronic pain and fatigue and experienced an intense near-depth experience in Mexico followed by a little normally-unheard-of R&R.

Speaking of spirochetes, I was fascinated by Lynn Margulis' theory (see page 149 and down) that axons and dendrites in the brain are ancient spirochetes that latched on and formed a permanent symobisis with neuron cells. Unfortunately she's pretty out there on quite a few things including HIV/AIDS denial, but at least she attempts to provide a parasitic-spirochete explanation for it rather than insisting it was created by the government.
posted by lordaych at 12:03 AM on May 3, 2013


Soundtrack for this thread: "Ticks" by Brad Paisley
posted by Jacqueline at 12:06 AM on May 3, 2013


My tick story is: lived in Wisconsin for a year, sitting at the computer one day I scratched my neck and realized I had a mole there that I hadn't ever noticed before; I have a mole-y neck to some extent. Then I touched it a few times, thought "hmm," and pulled it out all slowly-tautly and was squicked out for awhile afterward.
posted by lordaych at 12:06 AM on May 3, 2013


"Speaking of spirochetes, I was fascinated by Lynn Margulis' theory (see page 149 and down) that axons and dendrites in the brain are ancient spirochetes that latched on and formed a permanent symobisis with neuron cells. Unfortunately she's pretty out there on quite a few things including HIV/AIDS denial, but at least she attempts to provide a parasitic-spirochete explanation for it rather than insisting it was created by the government."

Yeah, that is not so much insight as a basic lack of understanding of neuronal cell biology or the evolution of Eukaryotic cell fibers and word salad.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:10 AM on May 3, 2013


I'm in urban-fringe Australia, so ticks are a part of life (yet another reason to hate kangaroos) although without the Lyme aspect. If you feel like it (ie don't do this) you can treat yourself with veterinary selemectin with dose adjusted for your mass - you feel sick for a couple of days post dose, and it doesn't stop the little bastards biting, but they do die and fall off after a couple of days of attachment.
To repeat - I in no way endorse people treating themselves with substances that have not been approved by the relevant statutory authority for human use - it's dangerous and possibly illegal and the consequences could be a lot worse than any tick bite.
posted by overyield at 6:06 AM on May 3, 2013


I'm pretty sure this thread is 100% the worst thread ever. Ticks are worst, and I am officially never ever leaving the house again.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:31 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Carl Zimmer Explains Where Feathers Come From in Latest TED-Ed Animation [Video]
posted by homunculus at 4:24 PM on May 3, 2013


I went for a walkie-walk with the dog a couple days ago, and we both got several ticks. I went home and immediately threw my clothes in the dryer, but I didn't think about the shoes I left in the bathroom. It took him a while, but a tick made his way from the shoes to the living room and I found it on my neck just before I came across this thread. I hate it that they are so hard to kill.
posted by ambulocetus at 5:15 PM on May 4, 2013


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