Small Ticks A Huge Problem on Cape & Islands

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

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

BARNSTABLE – Summer is tick season on Cape Cod and one of the region’s experts says there are three kinds of ticks and four or more diseases that people need to be concerned about when it comes to these tiny pests.

Larry Dapsis, an entomologist with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, works on the research and outreach of the prevention of tick-borne diseases. He gives frequent talks on the subject entitled, “Deer Ticks: One Bite Can Change Your Life.”

His focus these days, he said, is preventing tick bites in the first place.

He pitches a three-phase protection plan: protect yourself, protect your yard, protect your pet.

To protect yourself, Dapsis gives the common advice that people need to do a tick check. But he gave the added tip to throw clothes in the dryer, because ticks don’t do well in hot, dry temperatures.

Dapsis said there are two types of repellent that people can use, DEET-based, which is put on the skin, and permethrin, which is for treating clothing and footware. Dapsis said the latter is what he uses.

“This is the most effective tool in the box. If the tick is exposed to the chemical for 60 seconds, it will be dead in nine minutes,” he said of permethrin.

Dapsis said there are three different ticks on Cape Cod: the dog tick, also known as the wood tick; the lone star tick, and deer ticks. Deer ticks can transmit four different diseases: Lyme disease, Babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Borrelia miyamotoi

That last one, which is the most recently discovered tick disease on the Cape, causes relapsing fever.

Dapsis said Cape Cod Hospital last year treated 26 people for relapsing fever. “When we started sampling ticks, we’re finding that pathogen [Borrelia miyamotoi] in about three percent of the ticks on the Cape and the Islands, so it’s here,” he said.

The linkage of Borrelia miyamotoi to human disease was first made in Russia. The disease was being misdiagnosed all along as anaplasmosis, he said.

Dapsis said the array of animals carrying the pathogens is what makes these diseases so widespread.

Another issue on Cape Cod is that visitors who may get bitten by a tick on Cape Cod could return home to an area where doctors may not recognize symptoms of tick-borne diseases.

“Lyme is endemic in 14 different states and they account for 95 percent of all cases of Lyme. But if you look at the distribution map of cases, it’s been found in 49 of 50 states,” he said.

Dapsis said, Lyme disease is one of the most misdiagnosed diseases on the books. “Depending on the background of the attending physician, they might look at you and think, ‘fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or that you’re crazy,” he said.

One reason for the misdiagnosis problem, Dapsis said, is the diagnostic test for Lyme disease. “What they’re using right now is unreliable. You can get false positives, false negatives. It can be very, very misleading,” he said.

Historically, Barnstable County has been the third highest incidence rate in the state behind Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. But last year, Barnstable County was surpassed by Plymouth County by a two to one margin.

In Plymouth County, Dapsis said, “we’re just seeing more ticks in different places at higher densities. In Plymouth County, they don’t have the outreach program we have so they’ve been kind of blindsided,” he said.

Listen below to Larry Dapsis, entomologist from Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, talk about ticks.
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