Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wildlife photography and Lyme Disease

Deer TickAre you a wildlife photographer? Do you photograph wildlife in the Eastern half of the United States, especially in the Northeast, or along US west coast? Perhaps you're making wildlife photographs in Europe? If you photograph wildlife in those areas you're photographing in locales where Deer Ticks live out their two year life cycle.

I'm not suggesting you skip wildlife shooting in areas which have deer ticks. I enjoy more than 100 sessions each year in those areas, and in fact, after shoots, about once a year, I've found deer ticks under my clothing.

This article is intended to inform you about deer ticks and Lyme Disease, how to hopefully prevent yourself from being infected, recognize if you're infected, and if infected, what to do to minimize the effects of Lyme Disease.

Deer Ticks, otherwise known as Blacklegged Ticks, are the primary transmitters (vectors) of Lyme Disease, a debilitating, though rarely fatal infection, which is often misdiagnosed because its early symptoms can closely resemble flu.

Deer Ticks aren't the only ticks in the areas in which they live. For example, in the US Middle Atlantic states, as well as New England, the American Dog Tick is widely found, and generally in the same habitats as the Deer Tick. Both tend to live in wooded areas and along trails in forests and grasslands.

While Dog Ticks are known transmitters of Rocky Mountain Spotted and Colorado Tick Fever, they don't transmit Lyme Disease.

Both Deer and Dog Ticks are most active during the spring, early summer and fall.

Identifying ticks which have bitten you can be an important aid to doctors treating you. While the size of Deer Ticks vary depending on sex and feeding state, Deer Ticks, often misidentified as American Dog Ticks, are only about half the size of Dog Ticks.

Female Deer Ticks, approximately the size of a sesame seed, measure about 2.7 mm (tenth of an inch) in length. Males are smaller. The Deer Tick is orange-brown but may change to be rust or brown-red following feeding. Deer Ticks become engorged after feeding, but they're still much smaller than the common American Dog Tick.

Deer Tick bites are almost painless. Bite victims, more often than not, never realize they've been bitten until symptoms appear. Campers, hikers and wildlife photographers should always check themselves thoroughly. After any wildlife photography shoot I thoroughly check my body for ticks, especially in hairy areas where ticks can more easily hide while feeding. As Deer Tick females typically feed for extended periods, they can often be found during a body check, still attached to the skin of their bite victims.

To safely remove a tick:
  • Use pointed tweezers to grasp ticks by the head or mouth right where they enter the skin. DON'T grasp the tick by the body.
  • Pull firmly and steadily outward. DO NOT jerk or twist the tick.
  • Place ticks in a small container of rubbing alcohol to kill them.
  • Clean the bite wound with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Monitor the site of the bite for the next 30 days for a rash. If a rash appears or you have flu-like symptoms, contact your physician immediately.
You can protect yourself from Deer Ticks to prevent contracting Lyme Disease, but these measures aren't foolproof.
  • Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
  • Wear walking/hiking boots, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your pants legs into your socks in boots and your shirt into your pants.
  • Check clothes and exposed skin for ticks regularly while hiking.
  • Consider using insect repellent. Permethrin or DEET based products are generally effective, with most experts rating Permethrin based products the best.
  • Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
  • Keep long hair tied back.
  • Take a bath or shower as soon as possible after completing your hike to more easily find ticks on your body and in your hair.
  • Perform a full-body tick check at the end of every hike and walk. Remove ticks promptly.
According to the Mayo Clinic,
“If you're treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you're likely to recover completely. In later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate treatment.”
As mentioned, it's often difficult to diagnose Lyme Disease as its symptoms can be similar to Flu and other ailments.
Lyme Disease symptoms include:
  • Rash – Redness expanding from the bite in a bull's-eye pattern. Some people develop this rash at several locations other than surrounding the bite.
  • Flu like symptoms – Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, and a headache are all symptoms of Lyme Disease.
  • Joint pain – Several weeks or months after being infected victims may develop severe joint pain and swelling. The pain may move about the body to other joints.
  • Neurological problems – Weeks or months after being infected, victims may experience meningitis, Bell's palsy, numbness and weakness in the limbs and impaired muscle movement.
  • Other problems – Less common symptoms may involve irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, liver inflammation and severe fatigue.
Not all Deer Tick bites lead to Lyme Disease, but the longer the Deer Tick remains attached to your skin, the more likely you will contract Lyme Disease.
If you believe you've been bitten by a Deer Tick, and experience any of the above symptoms, contact your physician immediately, even if the symptoms quickly disappear. Just because the symptoms go away, doesn't mean the disease is gone. Left untreated, Lyme Disease can spread, worsen and take much longer to treat.
Early treatment of Lyme disease is the most effective treatment.


Greg said...

Great article. Thanks for the part about removing ticks. I though you were supposed to light a match near them. This is so much better.

Pete said...

Great article. I especially appreciate the advice on how to safely remove the tick.

Trina said...

I knew nothing about Permethrin based insecticides before your article about ticks and Lyme Disease. Thanks. I see I can get it online at Amazon or REI. I'm going to order some. I'm near the NJ Pine Barrens and we've got tons of Deer Ticks this year.

Ned S. Levi said...

Trina, you should be thanking my friend Frank for the suggestion. He gave me a heads up about the product. I knew nothing about until he emailed me about it.

I then did some research about Permethrin based insecticides and found that among other facts, Permethrin based insecticides are the choice of the Pentagon for troops in Deer Tick infested areas over DEET based products.

I note that while Permethrin is considered generally safe to humans when used properly, it is very toxic to cats, fish and aquatic life in general! Dogs are apparently okay but when spraying clothing it's best to do it outside in an open area away from animals and other people, then let it dry there, before wearing the clothing.

According to Sawyer Products, one of the manufacturers of Permethrin based insecticides,

"Permethrin is to be applied to clothing and material. It works by bonding to the fibers. When a tick or other insect comes into contact with the Permethrin, it absorbs a dose that will either repel or kill the insect. You apply Permethrin using an aerosol or trigger spray until the fabric is damp and then allow it to dry."

Trina said...

Thanks Frank. And thanks Ned for all your great articles.

Thomas said...

Great article. My last two times out in the Pine Barrens I found some ticks. Last time one was a dog tick. I was using DEET but it didn't work as well as it does for mosquitos. I just bought a Permethrin based product to try out.

Colin Purrington said...

Just an FYI that dog ticks are now resistant to permethrin, so if you are out with a dog get something with fipronil for them.

Ned S. Levi said...

Thanks for that comment Colin. Several studies have showed permethrin resistance in dog ticks. Fortunately, dog ticks, much larger and easier to see than deer ticks, don't carry Lyme Disease. They do carry other diseases such as Tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The CDC recommends DEET based products for people to prevent dog tick bites, plus the other methods I've listed above are helpful for tick bit prevention from any kind of tick.

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