Asinof: Tee Up! But be prepared. Ticks are here to stay

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An increasing concern for many golfers in Rhode Island, particularly following the revelation of PGA golfer Jimmy Walker’s battle with Lyme disease, is the reality that ticks have become an ever-increasing presence as part of the outdoors landscape in the Ocean State. With that presence, there has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of Lyme disease.

Between 2016 and 2017, Rhode Island saw a 22 percent increase in the number of cases of Lyme disease reported by health care providers to the R.I. Department of Health, with 927 cases in 2016, versus 1,132 cases in 2017. Rhode Island now has the fourth highest rate of Lyme disease in the nation, according to the agency.

Why is this such a concern for Rhode Island? According to Golf.com (Nov 2017), which has called us the golfiest state of all, “If there’s a state with more quality courses per capita than Rhode Island, I don’t know about it. Rhode Island, smallest by far of the 50, has 12,366 card-carrying golfers (GHIN cards) and dozens of good, no-nonsense, pre-Eisenhower walking courses, public, private and in between.”

One would hope that all our clubhouses have posted the preventive public information campaign materials prepared by the R.I. Department of Health and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management with the messaging: Repel, Check and Remove.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Even though the threat of acquiring an unwanted tick hitchhiker at a golf course may be less than when walking in the woods and fields with a dog, the risk is real: the ticks that carry Lyme disease can be found in parks, playgrounds, golf courses [in the rough] and backyards, but they are most common in very grassy areas and the woods, the state health agency says, warning that ticks can be as small as a poppy seed.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick, according to RIDOH materials, and an infected tick usually needs to be attached to a person for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. The recommended treatment for the early identified Lyme disease is a course of antibiotics.

However, no amount of spraying will be able to contain the increasing spread of ticks in the Northeast, according to researchers.

“Climate change – with its elevated temperatures and increased precipitation patterns – could make conditions more hospitable for ticks in the Northeast,” said RIDEM Director Janet Coit, in a news release as part of the public information campaign.

Recommended prevention steps

For many golfers, or, for that matter, for many outdoors enthusiasts, the recommended common-sense steps on how to avoid contact with ticks may not seem that appealing, especially on a hot summer day.

They include: wear light-colored clothing, including long pants and long sleeves, when walking in the woods. Tuck pant legs into your socks, and spray insect repellent on your arms and legs.

The other part of prevention is vigilance in inspecting your body and learning how to remove any ticks that are found on you – AND your pets.

The advice given by someone with the experience of frequent removal of ticks from dogs and children goes like this:

  • Be careful handling the tick, which can be adept at scurrying away after removal, and may be engorged with blood. Use tweezers. Place the removed tick on a piece of aluminum foil, and then incinerate the tick with a match, before disposing of it.

 

  • Use hydrogen peroxide to clean out the bite, on your pets or on your children or yourself.

Among the animal vectors for ticks are deer, and white-footed mice, which often provide the first blood meals for black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks.

Opposums Are Our Friends

In turn, in the battle against ticks and Lyme disease, opossum are a friendly warrior. Opossum feed on ticks, killing and eating some 5,000 ticks in a single season, according to researchers, related to their fastidious grooming practices.

Opossums are our helpers in the battle against ticks

Another sign of the tick invasion: the decline of moose in northern New England has been linked to the growing infestation of ticks caused by shorter winters and climate change.

It is a disliked fact: ticks are not going to go away.

Surviving in a world undergoing major man-made climate changes is much more than a reality show on the Discovery Channel.

Residents of Rhode Island, because of the lifeline that is Narragansett Bay, will increasingly find themselves adapting to the changes brought about by rising ocean waters, increased ferocity of storms, destruction of native habitats for fish and shellfish, and flooding of structures near the coastline.

The increase in the incidence of Lyme disease brought about by the growing number of ticks is just one of the symptoms of such changes.

Richard Asinof
Richard Asinof is an award-winning journalist who frequently writes about health, innovation, science, technology and community in Rhode Island. He is the founder and editor of ConvergenceRI, an online newsletter offering news and analysis at the convergence of health, science, technology and innovation in Rhode Island. He can be reached at RichardAsinof@gmail.com.
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