Two phone calls interrupt spring joy

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“The dark side of progress is now unmistakable; many of the advances that have made our lives more comfortable have also made them more dangerous.”

- Newsweek article, April 30, 2003


I have always loved this time of year – late May and all of June, when the sun is finally returning to us with more of a punch than just a weak, filtered light through gray, gloomy clouds. The world is greening up, the sky is vibrant blue again, song birds are back in large numbers and life seems to come alive after a long, dreary winter.

But two phone calls that came my way recently reminded me – and prompted me to want to remind Farm and Dairy readers – that this is also the time of year to be alert to bugs.

Tick scares. One call a few weeks ago was from my husband’s cousin, asking where she should direct some friends in our community for help after they’d found a tick on the back of their young son’s neck. Then, just a few days ago, our neighbor called me and said she felt horrified to find an engorged tick embedded on the side of her neck when she got out of the shower that morning.

This is an area of the country where we’d rarely seen ticks, therefore leading health experts to believe we have nothing to worry about in terms of tick-borne diseases.

More than ever. Every indication points to the fact that there are more ticks than ever this year, as the snow-covered winter actually gave ticks protection from die-off.

Richard Ostfeld, an animal ecologist at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., has tied spread of disease to suburban development.

“In open woodlands, foxes and bobcats keep a lid on the Lyme agent by hunting the mice that carry it. But the predators vanish when developers chop woodlands into subdivisions, and the mice and their ticks proliferate unnaturally. In a recent survey of woodlots in New York, Ostfeld found that infected ticks were some seven times as prevalent on one and two-acre lots as they were on lots of 10 and 15 acres,” the Newsweek article states.

Hazardous ecosystem. The point of the article is that blindly rearranging ecosystems can be hazardous to our health.

This is precisely what happened in the woods of Connecticut back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as long-established woodlands were chopped up into building lots. Mothers near Lyme, Conn., began comparing notes on the strange illnesses and maladies that had begun to plague entire families, and that is when Lyme disease was given its name. “Almost any activity that disrupts a natural environment can enhance the mobility of disease-causing microbes,” the Newsweek article points out.

This is happening in our part of the country, as it is happening just about everywhere.

Precaution. So, use bug spray, or swipe a fabric softener dryer sheet across your ankles and up to your knees and across the back of the neck and shoulders, wear white socks when hiking or walking in grass, try to stay on established trails rather than branching out into tall grasses. Do tick checks on yourself and others every single day, keeping in mind that some ticks are so tiny they can hardly be seen until they have attached and engorged themselves on your blood.

And remember that 70 percent of people infected with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases never remember being bitten, and an equally high percentage of them never developed a bulls-eye rash, so don’t consider that the only tell-tale sign of infection.

Enjoy the great outdoors, but enjoy it with a reasonable amount of caution and precaution. As my 16-year-old son continues to be pretty much homebound by this terrible illness, I want to spare Farm and Dairy readers this same horrid possibility.

About the Author

Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college. More Stories by Judith Sutherland

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