A professor from Indiana University in Pennsylvania said the presence of blacklegged ticks, especially those carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, has peaked in White’s Woods in White Township.
Not just for the summer, but for the long haul.
“The good news is that in White’s Woods … the (tick) density is high and the percentage of infected ticks is high and probably not going to increase. I think it’s as bad as it gets,’ said Dr Tom Simmons. “It’s typical of areas with high levels of Lyme disease and lots of ticks.”
Simmons, a 31-year professor of biology at IUP, said his findings are based on lab tests on ticks he’s collected in recent years at White’s Woods as well as Blue Spruce County Park and Yellow Creek State Park.
He discussed the numbers with a sense of urgency because, he said, the period of June and July is the peak period for nymph activity (young blacklegged ticks – also known as deer ticks). And according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most humans are infected with Lyme disease through the bites of tiny nymphal ticks under 2mm in size.
The message from his statistics is that if hikers and nature lovers can continue to enjoy White’s Woods as they always have, they should heed warnings about the spread of Lyme disease more seriously and take precautions. conscientious measures to avoid being bitten by ticks.
Simmons’ numbers show increasing numbers of ticks from late 2020 to mid-2021 and increasing percentages of them capable of transmitting Lyme disease. In his fieldwork a year ago, Simmons found 155 nymphal ticks in the Old Grove area of White’s Woods; 36% tested positive for Lyme disease and 9% were carriers of the anaplasmosis pathogen. None were found to carry babesiosis.
“For Lyme disease, acarological/entomological risk is often defined as the density of infected nymphs,” Simmons wrote. “Overall, during the months of May, June and July, the density of nymphs at Whites Woods was 8.8/100m2 and the density of infected nymphs at Whites Woods was 3.1/100m2. “
Studies in other parks have yielded similar infestation rates, Simmons reported.
“It appears that when ticks establish themselves in an area, their density increases to the numbers we see now in White’s Woods,” Simmons explained. “And it also seems that the percentage of people infected with Lyme disease bacteria, or pathogens or agents, seems to increase and then level off.
“It just seems like the numbers are going up and the percentage of infected ticks is going up and then it hits a certain point and stays at that level. And we are at this level.
Simmons’ study of White’s Woods and Blue Spruce and Yellow Creek parks was sanctioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s tick-borne disease surveillance program.
It should be understood that ticks are not lying in wait to latch onto anyone who makes their way along the trails of White’s Woods. They prefer to dwell on leaf litter or other materials near the ground and they prefer a cool, moist environment. This means that ticks are generally not sitting out in the open on dry, worn driveways that might be exposed to the sun. Instead, they are more often found among the “understory” ground cover, not high up on stems or leaves, but low down in shady areas.
Simmons’ figure of 10 ticks per 100 square meters means that the hiker who wanders off the beaten path into the vegetation and walks in a strip about 18 inches wide the length of about two football fields could possibly collect 10 ticks on his boots. .
By taking the proper precautions, Simmons said, hikers can avoid becoming infected with any of the three or four ticks that could carry Lyme disease:
• Wear light colored pants.
• Tuck trouser legs into tube socks.
• Wear a light colored shirt.
• Tuck the shirt into the pants.
“And stay on the trails!” implored Simmons. “The only way to get off the trail right now in White’s Woods would be if I deliberately tried to find and collect ticks.”
Ticks don’t just jump off plants or fly and land on human hosts. Nymphal ticks cling to shoes and climb in search of open skin, Simmons said.
Woods walkers can prepare ahead of time, according to Simmons.
• Apply the chemical permethrin (“Nix” is a popular brand) to shoes and socks.
• Find a company that can immerse clothing in permethrin. Simmons said ticks die almost instantly when they crawl on chemically treated clothing.
• Spray your body with insect repellent such as OFF! or DEET.
After leaving the woods, he said, there are more steps that can prevent the spread of disease:
• Tumble all clothes you have just worn in a dryer on the hottest setting for 15 minutes to kill ticks.
• Take a shower and do a full check for ticks.
“It’s a whole lot of things to do, but I’m doing it,” Simmons said. ” I am not joking. Especially in June and July, this is what people should do regularly.
If a hiker finds ticks on their clothing or body after returning home, the risk of becoming infected is still low and somewhat within the hiker’s control. Simmons said a tick that has bitten someone is unlikely to transmit Lyme disease if removed within 36 hours. Those who remove ticks from their skin or clothing can also mail them to a testing center at the University of East Stroudsburg to find out if the insects carry bacteria or Lyme agents.
The tests are carried out at no cost to users. The program is funded by a state grant.
Someone whose tick sample is positive for Lyme disease, Simmons said, would be advised to see their primary care physician for the recommended treatment.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis. During the first month of infection, people experience chills, headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and sometimes swollen lymph nodes. Between 70% and 80% of infected people have a rash that extends up to 12 inches in diameter from the bite. On average, it appears seven days after a person is bitten, but usually appears 3 to 30 days after infection, according to the CDC.
After months of infection, patients experience severe headache and stiff neck, facial paralysis, arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet.
Early treatment with antibiotics, under the guidance of an infectious disease specialist, can lead to rapid recovery without experiencing late-stage symptoms, the CDC reports.
Simmons said he’s been following drug companies’ efforts to find drugs that can prevent Lyme disease and predicted a vaccine against the infection could be ready for use as early as two years old.
“It’s quite advanced now. Pfizer funds it. …And I’ll have it, because I’m in the woods.
“But we don’t have it yet, so for now it’s just a matter of being careful and getting rid of it in a day and a half,” Simmons said. “Until we get a vaccine, it’s about educating and getting people to change their behavior.”
And for those who prefer to play against a better chance of escaping ticks, a walk in White’s Woods – or even gardening or other work in the backyards of houses adjacent to the forest – would be much safer at the end of summer.
“They kind of disappear in September. June and July are the peak, but May and August are less (risky),” Simmons said.
And while insects go nearly dormant during the winter, Simmons said, ticks can become active during a warm 40-degree period without snow cover.