OpEd: Ticks in October

Dr. Sam Telford, a tick expert in the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, visited the Bedford Board of Health’s October 7 meeting.

He was invited to share his expertise and offer advice on the Board’s vision to provide a tick barrier around every Bedford athletic field that borders a woodland.  To date, Bedford’s DPW and Parks and Recreation Department have identified the woodland side of the South Road ball field as the first location for a gravel and fence barrier, with a plan to maintain vegetation removal from both sides of the fence going forward.

Dr. Telford was enthusiastic about providing a physical barrier around athletic fields to lessen the exposure of athletes and spectators but reminded the Board that avoiding ticks needs multiple actions, including the application of DEET-containing repellants to clothing and exposed skin.

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He also reminded the board that mid-October is a time for increased tick activity as mature females seek a deer to attach to in order to obtain a sufficient blood meal to mature the 20,000 eggs she is capable of laying.  Those eggs will hatch in the spring to begin the two-year life cycle of Ixodes scapularis.  The first year the nymphs feed on small mammals and birds to begin their growth, over-wintering in deep leaf litter or small mammal burrows, to emerge again in the spring, reaching sexual maturity by fall.

Damp leaf litter is prime protection for the mature females seeking a blood meal; they die in low humidity conditions, such as gravel in sunlight.

Both spring nymphs and fall adults are capable of transmitting Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis to humans.  It is estimated that a few hundred Bedford residents acquire Lyme disease annually.  Avoiding infection is possible by wearing  DEET-repellents when around damp brush and leaf litter, and being aware of favorite tick habitat in October and early November, until the first hard frost.

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