Lyme Disease is something you just don’t want. Rich has had it twice. It was no fun, and he was lucky. Nearly as soon as symptoms appeared, he visited our family physician. She prescribed a powerful antibiotic that worked wonders and left him with no lingering problems. Unfortunately, many Lyme Disease victims suffer pain and fatigue for years. It’s serious.
Collection of ticks
Lyme is often transmitted to a human from a bite by a tiny tick that picked up the disease bacteria from an infected white-footed mouse. It once was thought that deer were the primary carrier but mostly they are host to a tiny larval tick that infects a mouse that allows another tick to infect a person.
In theory, eliminating white-footed mice from a yard and home will greatly reduce the odds of transmission of this disease to people. Killing all of them isn’t feasible but reducing their numbers is.
About White-Footed and Deer Mice
White Footed and Deer Mice are amazingly common across much of North America. They’re the cute, native mouse, not to be confused with the common house mouse that originated in the Old World.
White Footeds naturally live in dry temperate forests with brush. That perfectly describes suburban landscaping. It’s likely that five to 20 white-footed mice live in close proximity to most suburban families. They’re nocturnal and rarely seen.
Here are some characteristics:
- They’re hoarders. Find a cache of corn, dog food, or acorns in a shoe or empty can and you’ve found a white-footed mouse cache.
- They reproduce like crazy. A 44-day old female can become pregnant and bear a litter after 22 to 28 days. Babies become independent in three weeks and soon begin having their own babies. Mom often has two to four litters a year.
- They don’t live long. A year-old mouse is elderly.
- Foxes, weasels, hawks, owls, coyotes, and many other predators love dining on mice.
- White Footed mice enjoy coming into homes, where they often find food and enjoy a furnace’s warmth. They can bring with them disease-bearing ticks.
Prudent homeowners carefully manage ticks, in part by reducing white-footed mice numbers. The fewer mice that live near people the lower the odds a person will contract Lyme Disease. So, managing mice and ticks makes for a healthier home and yard. Here are a few tips:
To reduce mouse populations and entry to homes:
- Welcome mouse predators. Karla Bloem, Executive Director of the International Owl Center says, “Two actions people can take to encourage owls are to protect large dead trees that aren’t a threat to people of buildings should they fall. Owls love them. Also, building and erecting an owl house can welcome owls to live near a home and catch and eat mice.” Barred owl nest box plans, and plans for many other birdhouses, can be found at www.nestwatch.org.
- Plug up holes that allow mice to enter a home and replace worn or broken weatherstripping. This is an important fall maintenance that also keeps cold drafts outside and reduces heating bills.
- Avoid feeding mice. They love dining on dog or cat food left in a dish overnight or birdseed left under a feeder. Only feed pets and wild birds what they can eat in a short time. Then, pick up and clean the pet bowl.
- Use snap traps to kill mice in the house. Avoid poison. A poisoned mouse can stagger outside to be caught and eaten by an owl, which can sicken or die from the poison.
A Few More Ways to Reduce Lyme Disease
In addition to reducing mouse numbers and applying a vaccine to keep survivors free of Lyme Disease bacteria here are a few other ways a person can do to reduce odds of infection:
Pants, boots, gaiters and insect repellents help protect from ticks.
Use Permethrin: When applied to clothing, not skin, this chemical repels and kills ticks. Rich purchased several sets of clothing from the Insect Shield Company that are impregnated with permethrin. Supposedly the tick-killing effectiveness lasts for 70 washings. The chemical is also available in spray cans to apply to any clothing.
Do Tick Checks: After being outside, strip down and check the body over for ticks. Then take a hot sudsy shower. Ticks usually crawl around on a person for several hours before biting. A tick merely walking on the skin can’t infect a person.
Opossums groom themselves carefully.
Thank and welcome opossums: New research indicates that opossums are tick vacuum cleaners. Ticks climb on them, but these primitive mammals groom often and eat the ticks they remove from their fur and skin. If you have a possum living in the yard be happy.
An Emerging Tool in the Battle Against Lyme Disease
A new product is being developed and tested by a major research company. It is an oral nontoxic vaccine placed in small baits. When strategically positioned around a yard, mice not yet infected with Lyme bacteria eat it and become resistant to the bacteria. Mice uninfected by Lyme can’t spread the disease to a person. If all goes well this product will be on the market by 2021 and may be a major help in reducing human cases of Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease is an awful condition. Taking precautions to reduce the odds of being infected makes sense.
gaiters with tick guard help repel ticks.
Lyme Disease Has Spread
According to National Public Radio physicians in all 50 states have reported treating cases of Lyme Disease. It is named for the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first identified in the 1970s.
At first, the disease was confined mostly to the Eastern States and parts of the upper Midwest, but it has since spread widely, and the Center for Disease Control considers it one of the fastest spreading vector-borne diseases. Lyme Disease can cause fatigue, joint pain, and serious long-term problems. It is spread to people bitten by a tick so tiny that often the victim never sees it.
What’s Up With the Fatigue?
Rich contracted Lyme Disease in 2015 and again in 2018 and was successfully treated by Cedar Rapids Physician, Mary Anne Nelson, both times. His experience may help anyone who may have contracted the disease enjoy recovery from the disease. A major symptom can be fatigue.
“In 2015 I felt utterly fatigued for weeks on end. I never saw a tick or had a rash so didn’t suspect Lyme Disease. Because I wasn’t terribly sick I delayed going to Dr. Nelson until I started having knee joint pain. She prescribed a blood test that was positive for Lyme and treated it with powerful antibiotics. Fortunately, the medication worked, I had no side effects from the medication, and after a couple of months my energy returned as the joint pain faded,” he said.
Return of Lyme Disease
A common symptom is a generalized rash that is warm to the touch.
In 2018 a pinkish rash appeared on Rich’s left shoulder along with shoulder joint pain.
He immediately visited Dr. Nelson. She prescribed antibiotics, skipping the blood test. Symptoms vanished in a few weeks.
Not all Lyme victims are as fortunate as Rich and many struggle with the disease for years. Anyone who experiences the symptoms of rash, joint pain, or lethargy, even if they don’t feel terribly sick, should get to their physician right away. Early treatment may be most effective.
Hard to Detect
According to Dr. Nelson, Rich’s second round of Lyme was fairly typical. Like him, many victims are unaware they were bitten by a tick and often a pink rash is more common than the classic bullseye rash once thought to be a key symptom.
Lyme Disease isn’t restricted to people who slog through woods and prairies. The tick can lurk in yards, on golf courses, and in city parks. Although Lyme Disease is serious, remember, being in Nature offers tremendous health benefits. The risk of Lyme Disease shouldn’t discourage people from enjoying the outdoors.
Winding Pathways is concerned that people will shun the outdoors for fear of Lyme Disease. We encourage people to continue to enjoy their yards but be aware of the possibility of Lyme Disease, know its symptoms and take some precautions to ensure good health. Here are suggestions:
- Tuck long pants into socks to make it difficult for a tick to access the skin.
- Spray clothing with Permethrin. This chemical kills ticks and insects and is meant to be applied to clothing, not skin. It persists on clothes through several washings. Rich keeps a pair of permethrin-treated pants in the garage that he dons when working or walking in ticky areas.
- Purchase and wear clothing permeated with permethrin. Socks are available from Red Start Birding. A full line of clothing is available from Insect Shield. Local stores may sell permethrin treated clothes.
- After being outdoors take a sudsy shower and do a body tick check. Ticks sometimes walk on the skin for hours before biting. A tick strolling on the skin but not dug into the skin won’t cause Lyme Disease. Flush it down the toilet. Wash your hands.
- Be aware of symptoms. If a rash, lethargy, or joint pain appears get to a doctor right away.
Go Outside and play. The mental and physical benefits from contact with nature are huge. Just be tick aware.
We are proud of and fortunate that our yard is home to a wide array of fascinating plants and wildlife.
Only a good friend would know that we want pictures of creepy crawlies and save them for us for our blog!
But, last year Rich encountered a wild animal that he wishes he’d avoided. A deer tick found and bit him, although he never saw the tiny eight legged creature. A classic symptom of Lyme Disease is a red rash shaped like a bull’s eye. But Rich never had one. Instead he became overwhelmed with lethargy.
“I never felt sick, just tired, and kept thinking I’d be fine in a day or two,” he said.
But the fatigue dragged on for months, so he called our family physician who urged him to come right in. She gave him a thorough check over, and prescribed a chest X Ray and a Lyme Disease blood test.
Rich did both that afternoon. Within hours the doctor called to say the X ray revealed pneumonia and prescribed an antibiotic. Four days later the Lyme test came back positive and she prescribed a 21 day regime of amoxicillin, a different antibiotic.
“In just a few days the medicine worked and I felt better. Within a month the fatigue evaporated and the only lingering symptom was mild knee pain that may or may not have been caused by Lyme. I’m 66 and have a bit of osteo arthritis,” he said.
Rich was lucky. A year after the Lyme diagnosis he’s doing fine. Fortunately, his doctor prescribed the correct tests and medication and caught the disease early. Many people are less fortunate and suffer long term pain, fatigue and other symptoms.
Ticks measured against eighth inch markings.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick, a tiny eight legged animal that is increasingly common. Ticks live in tall grass and brushy areas, and our yard at Winding Pathways has both. We walk through other places where a tick could have found Rich. Ticks usually crawl around on a person for several hours before digging through the skin and feeding on blood. A wandering tick that has not penetrated the skin cannot transmit disease. Pluck it off and flush it down the toilet or drop it into soapy water.
It’s easy to be scared by negative publicity about Lyme Disease and stay inside. While the disease is serious and is not to be taken lightly, advice to avoid brushy and grassy places must be put into context. These places are beautiful and are homes to interesting wildlife and plants. They are places to get exercise. Even after contracting Lyme we spend part of our time in tick habitat, but we are cautious.
Gaiters fit snugly over boots and pants to deter ticks.
Here’s what we now do:
- Spray our clothes, ankles, and wrists with insect repellent containing DEET.
- When outside for a while we don special tick resistant gaiters (sometimes called spats) that make it hard for a tick to get under pants legs. We bought them from Forestry Suppliers for $13.
Permethrin-based spray can be bought at most stores that sell insect repellent.
We spray the gaiters with special repellent containing Permethrin that both repels and kills ticks Apply this to clothing, not skin. It is effective for at least two weeks so we don’t launder the gaiters but reapply the spray a couple of times a month.
- Change and launder clothes and shower when we’re done outside. Tiny deer ticks are tough to spot, but we do a body tick check as part of showering.
- Pay attention to our bodies. If we spot a dug-in tick or bulls-eye rash or experience lethargy or joint pain we’ll get to our doctor right away. No procrastination.
Rich emerged from Lyme Disease cautious and smarter but not afraid of being outside in beautiful and interesting places.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The Internet has great information on ticks and Lyme Disease.
Two of our favorite information sites are:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WebMD type in the search bar Lyme Disease.
We ordered our tick and chigger gaiters from Forestry Suppliers.
Permethrin based spray can usually be purchased in stores that sell insect repellent. Be sure to read the label.