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Ticks and Lyme Disease remain a problem even in winter, expert says

So it’s winter — for a few more days, at least — and one thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is ticks, right?


That’s according to Jerry Simons, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Health Technology and Management, who spoke at Monday’s meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. 

“Not a lot of people are thinking about Lyme disease yet; they’re thinking about coronavirus and whether we’re going to get that one last snow,” Mr. Simons said Monday.

“But we’re having Lyme disease reported all year long,” he said. “While summer has the most tick bites, it’s not just a summer problem. Even in the winter ticks can be active.” 

Mr. Simons said 2020 may be an especially bad year for ticks. “We’ve not had a good frost or snow this year, and frost on the ground kills off ticks.”

In the states of Maine and New Hampshire, the moose population is being devastated by ticks, Mr. Simons said. “The moose population is rapidly declining in these northern states,” he said.

A January 2017 Boston Globe article stated that “an insidious pest is killing about 70% of moose calves across Maine and New Hampshire, and their deadly work is being aided by warming temperatures and shorter winters that allow the parasites to survive longer, scientists believe.”

The article says “the moose are being literally drained of blood.”

Mr. Simons said that if someone “has Lyme disease and gets the right antibiotics early enough, you’re going to get over it.”

But, he noted, there is a small subset of people for whom the symptoms seem to go on and on.

Mr. Simons said that Dr. Ying Zhang of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health recently discovered that a mix of three antibiotics simultaneously did well in treating people who had a more persistent strain of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is not the only disease spread by ticks, Mr. Simons noted. Other diseases include tick paralysis, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and alpha-gal allergy. 

One way to keep ticks from biting you is to keep them off your property, he said. Birds, mice, chipmunks and other animals carry ticks, which drop off and eventually bite people. He said that turkeys, which eat ticks, are also carrying them, and don’t really help overall. 

But some methods that do keep ticks away include lavender, soaps, detergents, shampoo and carrying dryer sheets in your pockets. 

Putting DEET or permethrin on your clothes is “amazing at warding off ticks and killing any that come in contact with your skin,” Mr. Simons said. 

Another thing to keep in mind, he said, is to take your clothes off after walking in tick-infested areas and put them in the dryer first, not the washing machine. Ticks can survive the washing machine, he said. They can’t survive the dryer.