My favorite summer pastime is gardening. After the long New England winter, those little buds that peep out of their greenery in June are like old friends I have missed more than I can say. As in all good stories, however, there is a snake in the garden—well, not really a snake—a tick in the garden (and on hiking trails, in the lawn, in your pet’s hair and on the thousands of resident deer).
In 2017, after a mild winter, ticks are even more abundant and now are carrying far more dangerous illnesses than Lyme Disease. A few years ago, Babesiosis, a tick-borne disease caused by parasites that infect red blood cells, appeared on the south coast of Massachusetts. Babesia infection, even worse than Lyme, can range in severity from asymptomatic to life-threatening. This year an even more serious infection, called Powassan is spreading. According to the CDC, symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss. Long-term neurological damage may also occur.
I am taking the Internet experts’ advice and spraying my clothes (long-sleeved shirt, long pants, neck scarf) with Permethrin, wearing socks pulled up over the bottoms of my pant legs, finishing it off with gloves and a hat. I feel ridiculous, not to mention overheated, in my tick-proof outfit. However, there’s always something more extreme. In this case it’s Tick Shield, a get-up designed by two upstate New York dentists whose entire family contracted tick-borne illnesses. It features long sleeves and a hood, with ribbed elastic around the wrists and ankles. Made from a tightly woven, lightweight poplin, it is pale gray with a fluorescent orange band on one leg as a caution mark for joggers. Yes, it does get hot, but we are told that it is tolerable “if other clothing is not worn underneath it.” I can imagine how that would go over in Marion, Massachusetts.
This apparel dilemma reminds me of my parents’ discussion in the 1950’s during the bomb shelter fad. My father tried to convince my mother that our front yard was the only reasonable place to build one. I remember her declaring that she’d rather die in a nuclear war than have a bomb shelter in our front yard. I was thrilled at her bravery and conviction! In a tribute to Mom, I’m sticking with the only slightly miserable anti-tick get-up I’ve assembled and am passing on the space suit in the hopes that the ticks will move on to easier targets.