How Can You Make Your Home and Yard Safer from Lyme Disease?

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.

Ticks In Jar

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:

different types of tick protection

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.

Opossum

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.

tick guards

gaiters with tick guard help repel ticks.

What Do Baby Owls Look Like?

A Tale of Baby Owls
Guest Blogger, R’becca Groff

The first sign of an owl living back on our acreage happened late last summer when I heard a rabbit being taken late one night. A rabbit sounds like a human baby when it’s in trouble, and it is the painful reality of the food chain.

Throughout this past winter, my neighbors and I have been listening to two owls living across our adjoining properties – a very large one and his smaller mate — we assumed.

I was the only one who wasn’t getting outdoors in time to see them, however.

The other day I heard the hooting midday and ran outside, determined to see where this owl was perched. It sounded so close to my office window. And there it was…staring down at me from one of the old Austrian pine trees between my house and my neighbor’s.

I spoke softly to it, hoping it wouldn’t mind but it wanted nothing to do with me, and promptly vacated its branch perch, gliding gracefully across my neighbor’s back yard to a safer distance.

As I’d been hearing about a huge hawk nest way at the back of our property line, I went to have a look for myself. Studying the tree line as I walked, I came upon an owlet watching down from one of the lower branches of another pine tree. I couldn’t resist it. I had to try and converse with this beautiful creature. It sat there watching back at me, unhinged by my presence. Just for fun, I circled the tree, and the baby followed my every move.

Of course, I texted the neighbors, only to learn there are two new owlets as my northern neighbors have been watching that hawk nest through binoculars. They’ve been observing as mama owl hunts and feeds these babies around dusk. She obviously is doing a fine job as we all have plenty of owl pellets on the ground around our trees.

Throughout the day I couldn’t keep away. I kept walking back out to view this new baby living in my yard. Later that day I finally caught a glimpse of its sibling perched near the top of the pine tree at the end of our acreage’s property line.

The neighbors and I had a chuckle, as we’ve noticed the rabbits seem to have moved across the street —
out of our yards!

Can You Hear What I Hear?

Sometimes change happens as quickly as flipping a light switch. One moment it’s dark. A second later brightness fills the room. Other changes creep up so subtly that it’s hard to notice them at all.

That’s what happened to my hearing acuity. It probably started years ago when massive machine gun noise assaulted my ears during Army training, and running chain saws, lawn mowers, and other machines didn’t help. Gradually and pretty much unnoticed I developed tinnitus and lost the ability to hear many of nature’s delightful sounds.

Finch

Rich could not hear the sweet sound of the finch.

One day my wife, Marion, and I were sitting in the living room when she asked, “What bird is calling outside the window?”  I couldn’t hear a thing! It was time to get my hearing checked and a few days later I was at Heartland Hearing Center in Cedar Rapids. Audiologist Jennifer Reekers positioned me into a small booth and tested my ability to hear sounds of varied intensity and wavelength. The test proved what I already knew. I could not hear many sounds well, especially high pitches.

“Hearing aids will help restore your ability to hear many sounds,” she said. Over the next few weeks, she fitted me with a different trial pairs until I found one that did the trick. It was in spring and I could hear bird calls I hadn’t heard in years. Some sounds were odd, like hearing my own footsteps and my pants legs swooshing together as I walked.

My experience with the aids has been positive and, although they were expensive, it was money well spent. In the Premier section below is an article on the causes of hearing loss and how to improve hearing. It includes tips to protect hearing before loss sets in and what can be done to enable better sound detection and is reprinted from OUTDOORS UNLIMITED Magazine.

Wildlife and Hearing

Humans are fortunate. We have a fair ability to see, hear, taste, and smell. The senses of many wild animals have senses much better than ours, but they usually aren’t as well balanced.

Karla Bloem with Barn Owl

Barn owls can find prey in complete darkness using only their hearing.

For example, according to Karla Bloem, Executive Director of the International Owl Center, a barn owl’s hearing is so keen that it can detect and catch a mouse in complete darkness. Its vision is also outstanding, although probably only in black and white. But, that owl may not have a sense of smell or taste at all.

Like owls, wild turkeys have outstanding vision and hearing but probably no sense of smell or taste.

The sense of smell and hearing possessed by deer is amazingly well developed, but their vision isn’t very good. Humans are fortunate to have all our senses, although none of them may be as keen as those of certain animals. Hearing loss can often be prevented.   Take care around loud noise.

“This article first appeared in OUTDOORS UNLIMITED, a publication of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and is re-printed with permission.

“As the gunner fired bursts, my hands guided belted ammo into the big Browning machine gun.  The noise was so intense that concussions jarred my skull.

“Military noise, augmented by youthful years in small planes, running power saws, and hunting eventually caught up with me. By my 40th birthday my ears started buzzing. Called tinnitus, noisy ringing has been part of my life for decades.

Children Playing

Children’s voices were lost to Rich.

“Gradually it became harder to hear some sounds, especially the high pitch speech of girls. Conversing in a crowd became maddening as I could hear background conversation but not the person in front of me. Eventually wood thrushes and my wife’s expressed concerns convinced me to shun procrastination and seek help. No sound in nature is as magical as the springtime notes of this woodland bird. Several years ago I heard my last thrush. Either they were absent from the woods or my progressive hearing loss blocked their music.

“Studies link hearing loss with depression, dementia, falling, high blood pressure and anxiety but, it was the inability to hear birdsong that launched my search for a solution. I’m not alone.  At least one in three people, men and women alike, over age 60 suffer hearing loss. Unfortunately many fail to seek solution.

“Hearing loss is nondiscriminatory. Cumulative noise exposure impacts people of all ages and both genders. A current concern is high volume music from ear buds.  As many as a fifth of teenagers may eventually suffer hearing loss from it.

“Advertisers know this, and when my 60th birthday passed I began getting bombarded with hearing aid ads. Some claimed cures for tinnitus and most offered better hearing at bargain prices. Most sounded too good to be true.  I decided to seek a certified audiologist and within a week was sitting in a quiet booth as Jennifer Reekers of Heartland Hearing Center tested my ability to hear.  It yielded no surprises but was disconcerting.  I couldn’t hear high pitches.

“Jennifer holds a doctorate in audiology. She and her business partner, audiologist Diana Kain, patiently answered questions and convinced me that I was not just about to buy hearing aids but was beginning a long term relationship with professionals committed to improving my hearing. They fitted me with a trial pair of hearing aids appropriate for my non-typical lifestyle.

“Usually I work at my computer a few hours, then run a power saw, then back to the computer, then target practice with my .22 rifle.  I’m outside in wind, rain, blizzards and other quirks of nature. Sometimes I need to amplify sound then suppress a saw’s roar or a rifle’s bark.

ed_rexpressive“Jennifer used marvelous technology to adjust the aids to fit my needs. They aren’t merely amplifiers. They are computers enabling aids to fit varied needs. Jennifer manipulated her computer while tuning my aids to dampen tinnitus and background noise while boosting my ability to hear high pitch sounds.

” The following day I hiked seven miles in Effigy Mounds National Monument amid calling orioles. As I sat on a bluff over the Mississippi the delightful song of a wood thrush filled my ears.

“An important feature of my new aids is a tiny mute button. Just before I pick up my power saw or .22, I mute the aids and slip quality muffs over them. The mute function eliminates the hassle of removing hearing aids before noise exposure.

Spotting Birds

Hearing and locating birds got easier with hearing aids.

“I spent a week trying everything I could think of to frustrate the new hearing aids before I decided to buy them.  I went out in the rain and wind and even evicted a black fly that had crawled into my ear.  The aids stayed in place and kept working. I couldn’t shake them out.  They were comfortable, even after 14 hours and amazed me. One afternoon I rowed to the middle of a smallish lake and could clearly hear bank anglers conversing.

“Expensive!  Yes, but being able to hear a thrush and converse with the neighbor kids is priceless. The cost didn’t just buy hearing aids. It established a relationship with the audiologists who are my hearing coaches.  I can access them at any time at no additional cost. They’ll tune and clean the aids as the need arises.

“Licensed professional audiologists have a higher degree of training than hearing instrument specialists or hearing aid salespeople and have access to a wide array of hearing aids.  Jennifer and Diana have helped me recapture my hearing and their peers can likely help many of the millions of Americans who suffer hearing loss.

PREVENTING HEARING LOSS

“Hearing loss is a stealth condition.  Exposure to loud noise is cumulative and gradually permanently degrades hearing. It is the root cause of tinnitus. Correction is outstanding for those of us with hearing problems but prevention is far better. Loud music, lawnmowers, saws, blenders and vacuum cleaners, and especially firearms cause hearing loss that can be prevented.

”  Here are recommendations from Audiologists Reekers and Kain:

  1. Keep the volume down. Teenagers wearing earbuds that channel high intensity music into their ears are preparing for future hearing loss.
  2. Wear hearing protection whenever exposed to loud noise. Put on the muffs or plugs, even when running the lawn mower or vacuum cleaner.
  3. Protect children from loud noises.
  4. When target shooting it’s a good idea to wear both ear plugs and muffs at the same time to further dampen noise. Suppressors help reduce noise but wearing muffs remains prudent.
  5. Don’t procrastinate. If hearing problems develop find a licensed audiologist!

“Helpful websites are Healthy Hearing and Hearing Health Foundation.