Vermont entering peak season for ticks

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(Host) State officials say Vermont is entering the peak season for deer ticks.

So that means concerns about the spread of Lyme disease are also heightened.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has more.

(Sneyd) There’s ample proof that Lyme disease has become established in Vermont, transmitted to humans by the tiny deer tick.

The Health Department says 84 cases were diagnosed through August, nearly triple from previous years.

But the disease is still new enough that state officials are trying to get the word out that hikers, hunters and anyone spending time outdoors should take precautions.

Jon Turmel is an entomologist with the state Agriculture Agency:

(Turmel) May and October, early November, is the time of year when we see most of the samples come in here to the lab, which means they’re very active. But it’s also when people are very active out in the field, like hunting season.

(Sneyd) Turmel advises successful hunters to hang a deer carcass over a pool of soapy water.

The ticks will fall from the deer and die in the water, rather than go looking for a pet or the hunter to finish its “blood meal.’’

Hikers and others might want to tuck their pants into their socks to try to keep the ticks from getting in contact with their skin.

That’s what Maggie Desch advises her students at U-32 High School in central Vermont to do.

(Desch) We should all be wearing long pants, long sleeves, and, as dorky as it may look, you are supposed to take your long white socks and tuck the cuffs of your pants into the socks.

(Sneyd) Desch is an amateur entomologist, as well as a science teacher.

She’s taken her tenth-graders out into the towns surrounding Montpelier the past two years to conduct a tick census.

Now she’s trying to encourage other schools around the state to do the same thing.

(Desch) We can begin to see the progression of the population changes in the deer tick population. Whatever deer ticks we do find, we’re working with some entomologists from the state and we are trying to get some funding so we can actually test them for the Lyme disease bacterium so we can also get an idea of what the actual infection rate is of the deer ticks.

(Sneyd) According to the state epidemiologist it’s a pretty good bet that, where deer ticks are found, there will be Lyme disease.

Doctor Patricia Tassler says the disease can be debilitating, but it’s generally treatable. She says the best treatment, though, is to avoid contracting it.

(Tassler) Even with these prevention measures, people can still acquire ticks. So really the most important thing is a daily tick check. If a tick is removed within 24 hours of attaching, it really has a very small chance of transmitting Lyme disease if it’s carrying it.

(Sneyd) And deer ticks have been found across the state. This year, Lyme disease has been diagnosed in every county but Grand Isle and Essex.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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