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Ticks Down to the DEET-Tales... Blech!

Regular Patch contributor Daniel Highet tells us what he really thinks about the little buggers.

Bugs…Blech. Decidedly, not a fan. I'm especially not a fan of any bug that attaches itself to my skin, penetrates the epidermis and proceeds to gorge itself on my blood. I mean, come on. Find your own fast food and shelter.

I know, I know. Bugs are part of our delicately balanced ecosystem. But there are some bugs, let's face it — if we could — we could probably do without.

Ticks are definitely up on that list. Up near the top.

Well, the folks at the Tick Encounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island, by all appearances, seem to be pathologically obsessed with them. (As well they should be, since they do spread disease.).

URI's Tick Encounter Resource Center has published a sophisticated website, featuring all sorts of splashy multimedia, including a documentary, helpful How-To videos for removing the critters (30,000 hits to date), radio interviews, and a frightening PSA in which a tick larger than the blob that Steve McQueen fought in a movie theater, grows larger and larger before taking over the entire northeastern seaboard.

Yikes.

As far as Aquidneck Island goes, and that includes the communities of Middletown, Newport and Portsmouth, ticks are making a comeback. Or at least they were until this summer. Still, the subspecies we need to be concerned about is the deer tick.

"Throughout the '90's and the early 2000's, ticks weren't really a public health concern for Aquidneck Island," said Dr. Thomas Mather, director of URI's Center for Vector-Borne Disease, the non-profit org behind the Tick Encounter Resource Center, and whose work is partly funded by the National Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.

"That's because there had been so much new construction and clear-cutting of wooded areas in Middletown, Newport and Portsmouth that the conditions were no longer hospitable for certain wildlife. With the coming of second growth forest, the deer and the mice and the ticks returned."

Deer ticks, as most of us know, spread Lyme Disease. Named after a town in Connecticut where a number of cases were identified in 1975, its symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and depression. Not to mention a curious circular rash that looks worrisomely like the logo for a popular retailer.

While most cases of Lyme Disease can be treated with antibiotics, if left untreated or treated inadequately, one can develop chronic and severe symptoms that may affect the eyes, joints, nervous system, heart and brain.

Back off, ticks. My brain? To quote Woody Allen, who made no secret of his fear of all things woodland, "That's my second favorite organ."

In the most extreme cases of tick-borne Lyme Disease, permanent paraplegia can occur.

Rhode Island has consistently ranked second, trailing only behind Connecticut, in per capita incidence of tick-borne disease. (Just one more reason, in addition to Yankee fans, to avoid our neighbor state.)

Statistics aside, Dr. Mather is rather fatalistic about sharing our future with them.

"While global warming will likely increase tick growth, especially a rise in humidity, the problem of ticks has always been with us, and will continue to be with us in the future," states Dr. Mather.

"We simply have to learn how to deal with it."

DEET, anyone?

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