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Ticks, Browntail Moths and Poison Ivy

By Julia McLeod

This week I went for a lovely walk by a stream in Harpswell, on a property soon to be acquired by Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.  Pink lady slippers were blooming, and we watched a Great Blue Heron clumsily take flight.  It was quiet and sunny and made me love my job.

But I also found four ticks on myself within an hour of being back in the office.

The world we live in can feel full of dangers, big and small.  I have had lyme disease (though a minor case) and I’ve known people whose lives have been greatly affected by the disease.  Add to that the rashes caused by Browntail Moth caterpillars and poison ivy, and I’m sure there are other dangers off my radar.

But here’s the thing:  I’m not willing to stay indoors.  I love being in nature too much.  And I’m not willing to keep my children indoors.

So I take precautions.  I check my children every day for ticks, and I’ve found some teeny, tiny ones on them.  I check myself for ticks (though not as often as I should).  I try to protect myself.

I wanted to write this article to give you some basic facts and resources so you can enjoy the outdoors too, while taking appropriate precautions.

Ticks and Lyme Disease

The Centers for Disease Control has extensive information about Lyme Disease on their website.  Here are some basic facts:

  • 2016-Blacklegged-Tick-CDCLyme Disease is only transmitted by Blacklegged Ticks.  They are very small.  In general, adult ticks are approximately the size of a sesame seed and nymphal ticks are approximately the size of a poppy seed.  Those large ticks you see often do not transmit the disease.
  • Blacklegged ticks need to be attached for at least 24 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease.  Thus the importance of regular tick checks.
  • If you find a tick embedded, remove it by using tweezers to pull upward with steady, even pressure.
  • Early Signs and Symptoms (3 to 30 days after tick bite) include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and a red rash called Erythema migrans (EM).  Click here for more information about and pictures of this rash.  Some people do not experience all these symptoms.
  • Lyme Disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Browntail Moth

Browntail-Moth-PPHThe Maine Forest Service has information about Browntail Moth on their website.  Here are some basic facts:

  • Contact with the larval (caterpillar) stage of Browntail Moth can cause a rash similar to poison ivy.  Some people also experience respiratory distress from inhaling the microscopic hairs that blow around in the air.
  • The caterpillars are one and a half inches long, are dark brown, have a broken white stripe on each side of the body and two reddish spots on the tail end of the back.  These should not be confused with larvae of the eastern tent caterpillar which has a single, solid, white stripe down its back or the gypsy moth which has paired blue and red spots on its back.
  • The larval (caterpillar) stage lasts for nine months, from August through June.
  • Click here for a list of precautions you can take if you have Browntail Moth on your property.

Poison Ivy

poison-ivy-medicinenetNot a new threat like the others, but poison ivy is still annoying.  Here are some basic facts:

  • “Leaves of three, let them be.”
  • The rash is caused by the oils of the poison ivy plant.  These oils enter your skin quickly.  If you come in contact with the plant, wash your skin thoroughly with soap and warm water as soon as possible.
  • A poison ivy rash will usually begin to appear one to two days after coming in contact with poison ivy.