Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Preventing Tick Bites on Cape Cod? (Part 1)

Gull Pond doesn’t look like a dangerous place, but ticks are out early this year, due to the mild winter and warm spring. Who knows how many of these diabolical creatures lurk in the leaf litter beside the shore?

I am very proud of Mark, a blog reader who alerted me yesterday to an email message that went out to parents of Nauset High students, warning them about Lyme, with the recommendation to stock up on DEET and permethrin, a pesticide that kills ticks. “Pouring a bunch of permethrin in the backyard may not be very smart on the Outer Cape,” Mark commented. He obviously worries about our sole source aquifer, as do I. The email suggested treating the perimeter of yards by spraying the toxic chemical. Damminix Tick Tubes were also mentioned. This product contains cotton balls, pre-soaked with permetrhin. The idea is that mice will find the cotton balls and take them home, killing any ticks there. The email even explained how to make your own tubes. Finally it offered the name of a company off-Cape that would come rid your lawn of ticks, for a price.

I leaped into action, leaving messages with Cindy Luppi of Clean Water Action, Senator Dan Wolf’s assistant Seth Rolbein, as well as legislative aides to Rep. Sarah Peake and Cleon Turner. I then contacted Larry Dapais, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension entomologist-in-chief, who had posted a message on the early emergence of nymph-stage ticks on the Lyme Awareness of Cape Cod Web site.

Larry Dapais responded and listened patiently to me. He's highly informed on Lyme and, next, month, will be giving talks across the Cape (June 6, 6:30, Truro Library). He acknowledged my “fair point of view” when I described distress at still more toxic chemicals entering Cape Cod’s sole source aquifer. “Once sprayed at the edge of a yard, when it hits the leaf litter, they are immobilized,” he said. I assume he meant the ticks. He added that he was trying to evaluate some eco-friendly alternatives and only advised using pesticides “in a smart way.”

(Treating the perimeter of a yard is a tough one when you live in the woods the way many of us do here in Wellfleet.)

“Permethrin binds to dry surfaces,” Larry continued. Ie. a dead leaf or article of clothing. It stays effective on clothing for six washings. Pre-treated clothing lasts 70 washings. He also recommends small amounts of the chemical be applied to shoes.

I asked about permethrin in laundry rinse, transiting the septic into the aquifer. Larry could not really respond. In his opinion, traces of poison in our aquifer are less worrisome than chronic Lyme. Having had my own bout with Lyme, I could see his point but still did not feel satisfied with wreaking chemical havoc on the environment to kill a few ticks.
I asked about guinea hens. He said they make quite a racket, and he was not sure if they eat nymphs as well as adult ticks. (Nymphs are the size of poppy seeds and can transmit Lyme, as well as other diseases.)

I also asked about DEET products. Larry said he does not recommend DEET. (Thank you to Nancy, another blog reader, who sent information on DEET-free products.) DEET is a neurotoxin. In the past, I have used organic bite blocker extreme and that works, too.

Barnstable County has the third most serious tick problem in Massachusetts, after Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Last year Governor Deval Patrick proclaimed May “Lyme Disease Awareness Month.” This year Lyme Awareness of Cape Cod has members out hanging lime-colored ribbons on trees. One well-intentioned member was behind the mailing of emails like the one Mark received.

I spoke to Ron Gangemi, founder of the non-profit, who told me permethrin works. “It’s a good chemical, but I don’t know how healthy it is for anyone...”

At the end of the day, I received a second email from Mark. The suggestions to parents had been retracted:

“Dear Staff and Parents,

The information and flyers forwarded to you regarding Lyme disease yesterday is in NO WAY AN ENDORSEMENT OF THE NAUSET PUBLIC SCHOOLS and was only sent as requested to raise awareness and protect families against Lyme disease.


Now that’s good news. Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Lisa Brown. Thank you, Sky.

For those of you now on Cape Cod, chronic Lyme disease survivor and veteran healthcare practitioner Katina Makris, author of "Out of the Woods: Healing Lyme Disease Body, Mind, and Spirit", will be speaking at the Wellfleet Public Library on Saturday, May 12, from 3-5pm.

What do you think? Have you had Lyme disease? Do you practice tick prevention? Would you treat your yard with a toxic chemical?