Entomologist Reminding Residents to be Mindful of Ticks Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Larry Dapsis, an entomologist with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

HYANNIS – During the coronavirus outbreak, people are looking at outdoor activities as a way to manage stress.

That’s prompting Barnstable County Entomologist Larry Dapsis to remind the public to be mindful of ticks.

“Ticks have not read the book on social distancing,” Dapsis said.   

“Every single year there is 365 tick encounter opportunities so they’re always out there and it’s a matter of being on your guard all year.”

Dapsis added that many people are being misled by information on the internet.

According to Dapsis, tick exposure comes in many places people least expect and often tick bites happen in people’s backyards.

“People are under the impression that you have to go to Nickerson State Park or conservation trust land to get a tick bite,” Dapsis said.  

“A surveillance project in Connecticut found that two thirds of the people that submitted ticks for identification and testing got them from their backyard. The edge of your backyard is a perfect habitat.”

Ticks have five different pathogens that they can pass onto humans upon biting them, including most commonly Lyme disease.

Fifty percent of adult stage deer ticks have the Lyme disease bacteria, according to Dapsis.

To protect against ticks, Dapsis recommends using insect repellent such as DEET on your skin and Permethrin on your clothing.

The majority of garden centers on Cape Cod carry Permethrin and other insect repellents.

He also said after being outside, people should do a tick check and then throw their clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes to kill any ticks you may have missed.

“I tell people when you come in from an outdoor activity throw your clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes, any ticks that are on your clothing, 20 minutes in the dryer will kill it,” said Dapsis.

The “Send a Tick to College” program is still available to Barnstable County residents.

The program allows anyone exposed to a tick to send that tick to UMass Amherst’s Laboratory of Medical Zoology to be tested for pathogens.

The program was originally subsidized by a grant from Cape Cod Healthcare, but is now subsidized by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Thanks to these grants, Cape Codders only pay $15 to have a tick tested instead of the regular price of $50.

“Basically, for Cape Cod residents for the price of a pizza you get some good data,” said Dapsis.

He added that anyone who sends a tick in will get results in 3 business days or less, and that the results are 99 percent accurate.

The money from the DPH is running low however and is expected to be gone by the end of the month.

It is not known if the Mass DPH will continue the funding moving forward, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

If the DPH does not renew funding for the “Send a Tick to College” program, the price to get a tick tested will increase to $50.

Thousands of ticks a year get sent to UMass as part of the program.

Though the winter was relatively mild, that does not increase the size of the tick population.

Dapsis said that the population of ticks varies from year to year and site to site.

The size of the tick population is based on the acorn crop of two years ago, according to Dapsis.

Barnstable County residents do have an ally in the fight against ticks, possums.

“We have a friend on the Cape that is doing a certain amount of damage to the tick population, possums,” said Dapsis.  

“Possums as it turns out do not tolerate any presence of ticks and so they eat them. It was calculated that a possum kills 5,300 ticks per week.”

In a typical year Dapsis does 85 to 90 tick workshops, however he has transitioned to bringing those workshops online in the form of a YouTube channel so that more people have easy access to tick information.

The channel has videos on types of ticks, personal protection tactics, how to remove a tick, and how to get a tick tested, among many others.

Dapsis also encourages people to contact him directly to speak about ticks.

While ticks remain an issue, Dapsis said it is no reason to stay holed up inside and he hopes people are safely recreating.

For information on ticks and to view Dapsis’s YouTube channel, visit Capecodextension.org/ticks/.

To call Dapsis directly to speak about ticks, call 508 375 6642.

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