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Don’t let ticks in the deer woods spoil the hunt

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Most of us who spend time deer hunting have had encounters with deer ticks, the bad ones, or know someone with Lyme disease. Earlier this fall, University of Maine Professor Jim Dill, a tick expert, appeared as a guest on my Sunday night call-in radio program, Maine Outdoors. The phones rang constantly the entire hour as listeners cued up to ask their questions of Professor Dill. Dill heads up a new diagnostics research facility at the University of Maine that opened this past April.

Our guest was most informative and interesting. Some points he made: 1) In Maine last year, there were 1,500 documented cases of Lyme infections. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) believes that in fact in Maine actual cases of Lyme disease are at least ten times that figure! 2) Along with Lyme disease, deer ticks carry other bacteria and viruses, including babesiosis and anaplasmosis. 3) Although ticks need to be attached to your body for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, a shorter exposure time may be risky in the case of deer ticks infected with babesiosis or anaplasmosis. 4) Contrary to popular myth, ticks don’t jump on you. They hang on the edge of a fern or plant swaying back and forth waiting for a host to rub against the vegetation. The act of doing this is called “questing.”

Deer ticks, or black-legged ticks as they are sometimes called, are nothing to trifle with. All three of the tick-induced infections are serious and potentially debilitating. From experience with tick infections, state medical facilities and physicians are getting more well informed and sophisticated in treating and diagnosing these tick diseases, although it is a very imperfect science.

Today, as a rule, even if you have an embedded tick, or even the resultant “bulls eye” rash, physicians will stop short of prescribing antibiotics until the patient shows some symptoms.

Of course, not all deer ticks carry any of the infections. So testing the ticks in the laboratory makes a great deal of sense, especially if the tick in question has been on your body for more than 24 hours. According to Dill, since April, his facility has tested 1,800 ticks that have been submitted by physicians and individuals who have been bitten by a tick. Of those ticks tested, Dill says that upwards of 40 percent of the ticks carried one of the prevalent infections! This is a higher ratio than previously thought.

The good news is that the UMO facility will test a tick for just $15. This is wonderful news for obvious reasons. The physician and the patient are no longer “flying blind.” And in cases of where the tick tests negative, the patient need not be subjected to a regimen of strong antibiotics. To learn more about how to submit a tick for testing, check out the online address: tickID@maine.edu.

Owners of pets need to realize that, although dog ticks are not infectious, the smaller deer ticks can also infect your dog with Lyme disease. Curiously, there is a preventative Lyme disease vaccine for dogs, but not for humans!

When it comes to ticks, the best defense is a good offense. After a day in the deer woods, always check yourself carefully for ticks. What’s a good anti-tick spray? Professor Dill, and many others in the know, highly recommend a spray for your clothes only that contains the ingredient Permethrin.

This has worked for me. Deer hunters who have given up hunting because of ticks, might want to reconsider. Like so many other bodily perils we face, from the common flu to unsafe drivers, the taking of proper precautions, as just mentioned, makes the risk minimal.

Good hunting!

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The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.

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