Taking a More Proactive Approach in the Battle Against Ticks (Part 1 of 2)

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II

When I first meet folks, after they learn I’m an outdoor writer and spend a lot of time afield, they’re often quick to share unprompted what they’re afraid of out in Penn’s Woods. Normally, their answers are one of two things, either bears or rattlesnakes; even though most of them have never encountered either species in their entire lives. Often, they feel inclined to continue the conversation by asking what I’m afraid of when I’m outdoors so much. Being honest, I respond that my greatest concern when I head out to participate in any outdoor activity has become ticks. I’ve had family members, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances come down with tick-borne illnesses, some to the point they were debilitating, life-altering, and even life-threatening; that I want to avoid tick bites as much as possible. Some of the most common tick-borne illnesses found in PA include: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and tularemia. Now, there is even an extreme red meat allergy triggered by the bite of a Lone Star tick, which has recently been found in parts of the Commonwealth.

Believe it or not, I never had a single tick on me until 10-years ago. Growing up in PA, the only place I even knew ticks existed was down in the extreme southeastern corner of the state near Philadelphia. Over the past 25-years, ticks have expanded their range across the entire Commonwealth. For the first 10-years we lived in Pulaski Township, from 1998-2008 and I never saw a single tick on our property. Then about 10-years ago, my wife got the first one walking back in our woods. I saw it crawling on her arm when we came back inside and since then “tick checks” have become a regular occurrence after any family member spends time outdoors.

Since that first one showed up, my personal approach to ticks has been defensive and reactive. All the outer layers of clothing and hats I wear to hunt, fish, camp, and work outdoors are treated with Permethrin. This effective insecticide not only repels, but also kills, ticks. However, Permethrin is only safe to be applied to clothing, tents, sleeping bags, and other outdoor gear. (Never apply Permethrin directly to your skin.) After Permethrin dries, the clothing and gear is safe to wear and use; and it can withstand 5 or 6 washings before reapplication is required. Permethrin at a 1% concentration of its active ingredient can be found in local sporting goods stores/departments in either a spray bottle or aerosol can. For safe application on exposed skin, use insect repellants containing DEET, Picaridin, or proven natural ingredients to ward off ticks.

Several times in 2018, I found ticks on me and in all cases, I had walked out in the woods for only a few minutes unprotected in “street clothes” without any Permethrin on my clothing or DEET on my skin. A quick dash outback right before work in mid-April to locate some gobbling turkeys resulted in 3 tick bites and an eventual trip to the doctor’s office. Fortunately, the test for Lyme disease came back negative. I learned my lesson the hard way that it only takes a few minutes unprotected in “tick country” to become an unsuspecting meal for an unscrupulous tick.

Unfortunately, the rapid expansion of ticks into our area has even made some back yards and parks unsafe places to be without Permethrin treated clothing or insect repellent on your skin.

I’ve always wondered what led to the burgeoning tick population in our area in the past 10-years or so. I kept asking myself what had changed on our property to bring about thriving tick numbers that never existed before. Last year around this time, I came across a news article online that made sense. It summarized a research paper several scientists presented in the professional journal for their field of study: Parasites & Vectors. It was their findings the rapid expansion of ticks was closely tied to the existence and proliferation of the invasive species: multiflora rose.

Next week I’ll explore the connection between multiflora rose and ticks, and share how I’ve aggressively gone on the offensive to battle ticks. God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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