Summer On The Cape – How To Deal With Ticks And Poison Ivy | Falmouth Columns
Summer 2020 was one for the history books – no tourists, postponed weddings, no dining inside, little or no family visits, no fireworks and the canceled road race. Forward to 2021 and the COVID vaccines that allow our traditional summer activities (minus the July 4 fireworks) to resume in a happy abandonment. Weddings are picking up, families are planning sightseeing, restaurants are packed, and town shopping is booming on cloudy, beach-free days. Normal life has returned and we all recognize how lucky we are to live in this beautiful city cradled by ocean breezes.
There are a few downsides to this idyllic life though and, no, I’m not thinking of too many weekend guests or traffic on Bourne Bridge. The price we pay for living in this beautiful habitat are the many creatures – chipmunks, deer, squirrels – who share their ticks with us. Mother Nature also decreed that our lush landscape is perfect for poison ivy, which seems to be spreading on time. Just as we have learned to promote sun protection with sunscreen and hats, we must learn to avoid the dangers of ticks and poisonous plants.
Poison ivy is easily recognized by its cluster of three leaves and, at first, its coppery color. Thanks to the increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, it grows so fast that a small plant on Monday can be halfway up a tree on Saturday, and it’s even more toxic than in the past. People can be so allergic to the urushiol found in this plant that they need to be treated in the emergency room.
Our family has often suffered unpleasant reactions to this harmful plant. When people were burning leaves in the fall, my oldest son had a terrible respiratory reaction to the smoke that was blowing a mile away and had to be treated with steroids. Pets can also carry the poisonous urushiol, which may not affect them but remains active on their fur. On the morning of her wedding, my daughter woke up with puffy eyes and her face contorted with terrible marks. She hadn’t touched any poison ivy, but we realized that her beloved dog had walked through it and when he licked her face it spread the toxins to her. She spent hours in the emergency room, where the staff worked miracles to save her big day.
Unfortunately, for those who are infected, it is out of the question to go out in the sun until the infection is gone, so golf and the beach are not recommended. Fortunately, there are now some very effective home treatments for poison ivy exposure. Before gardening or hiking, or even just a walk on the bike path, people can apply a barrier cream like Ivy Block or right after exposure, wash with special Techniu soap or dish detergent. Wear gloves when gardening and keep tools clean. There are several varieties of disposable wipes which can be carried in a pocket and used immediately after exposure; they can also be used to wipe down affected garden tools that can spread urushiol even weeks later.
When it comes to tick-borne diseases, Cape Town and the Islands rank among the top percent of US counties with serious problems. Lyme disease may be named after the city of Connecticut, where it was first recognized in the 1970s, but it has been around for at least 100 years. The CDC has said the actual number of Lyme disease cases here may be much higher than statistics indicate, as cases are reported by the county of the victim’s residence, not where they may have been. been infected.
It is deer ticks, not dog ticks, that carry dangerous bacteria that can cause lifelong physical damage. The deer are to blame, but in fact, ticks drop off the deer and are spread by smaller creatures like these cute chipmunks that run through your yard. Unlike dog ticks, deer ticks are so small that they are almost invisible until they become encrusted, suck your blood, and infect you. Like poison ivy, global warming is helping to increase the number of ticks around us.
I have been gardening for over 40 years and never had a tick on me until the last three weeks when I had to remove four ticks. Fortunately, we now know that we can anticipate the cycle of infection by taking antibiotics, and we have tests for Lyme disease. We also know that spraying garden or hiking clothes and shoes with pyrethrum spray will repel ticks for up to six washes, and insect repellant will help protect uncovered skin. There are now a variety of “check keys” on the market that quickly remove an attached tick. Twenty years ago there was a vaccine (LYMErix) to protect against Lyme disease but it was withdrawn after three years, apparently due to lack of consumer demand. The CDC website says two large pharmaceutical companies are in the second stage of testing new vaccines, so we may have some future protection.
In Barnstable County, Extension Department entomologist Larry Dapsis and the Master Gardener helpline can provide additional information on ticks and poison ivy; the site is www.capecodextension.org and the phone number is 508-375-6690. Raising awareness of these two dangers of summer for residents and visitors can be done – remember the “Ban the Burn” banner on the village green? If we did it for a sunburn, we can do it again.
Mary Pat MacKenzie is a member of the Neighborhood Falmouth Board of Directors and a volunteer. Neighborhood Falmouth is a local membership organization whose mission is to provide information and services so that the seniors of Falmouth can live safely and comfortably in their own homes for as long as possible. For more information on ticks and poison ivy, the Falmouth neighborhood, or to volunteer or become a member, call 508-564-7543 or visit www.neighbourhoodfalmouth.org.