Deer get an unfair rap when it comes to Lyme Disease as other animals also carry disease-spreading ticks. Knowing areas to avoid for deer ticks can however help protect you and your family from this potentially debilitating illness, and assuming that an area is safe if it has no obvious deer population is not good practice. So-called ‘deer ticks’ of the order Ixodes dammini are an important component of the spread of Lyme disease in the East and in the upper Midwest of America, but it is the Western Black-legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus) that is held largely responsible for infection on the West Coast. Deer ticks can also use other animal hosts such as wolves, cougars, mice, cattle, lizards, and even birds making it difficult to control tick populations.
Early Warning Signs of Lyme Disease
Where Lyme disease goes untreated it may cause problems with the joints, the heart, and even neurological function, although the latter is more likely with infection by ticks in Europe than in the US. It is, therefore, very important to catch signs of infection early and provide effective antibiotic treatment before the infection has a chance to spread and cause lasting damage. Understanding those areas that deer ticks like to frequent can help people to avoid Lyme disease hot-spots, implement tick-control strategies, and, where avoidance is impossible, develop good habits for checking for ticks after any outdoor activities.
Places Deer Ticks are Found
Deer ticks are commonly found in woods, shrubs, tall weeds and grasses, and in damp shady climates rather than dry open areas. Where an area is landscaped with short grass, such as on a golf course or lawn, the likelihood of the presence of ticks is relatively low. Ticks can however get ‘trapped’ between stone walls on paths beside grassy areas which can pose a problem for children who often like to play on such walls. White-footed mice are one of the major reservoirs for infectious Borrelia bacteria and the presence of a mouse population, even in the absence of deer, can lead Lyme disease transmission to humans. Indeed, in some areas where the deer population has been eradicated incidences of Lyme disease have still occurred.
White-tailed deer are an important host animal for the ticks however and where large numbers of deer are present there do tend to be more ticks. Where deer are commonly on your property it is wise to take preventative measures to reduce the possibility of tick bites. This can include putting up deer-control fencing, removing tempting deer food such as fruit trees and vegetable gardens and replacing these with deer-resistant plants, and constructing a border around the house that is inhospitable to ticks, such as short grass, gravel, or paving.
Lyme Disease Cases Reported
Lyme disease has been reported in almost every US state, although around 85% of cases caused by deer-ticks are clustered in the Northeast, from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, and the upper Midwest in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Estimates of infection in the deer tick population range from around 5% to 80% with ticks in Westchester and Suffolk counties having some of the highest incidences of infection. As such, New York has the highest rate of Lyme Disease in the US, along with the highest number of deer ticks. In contrast, the tick infection rate on the West coast is thought to be just 2-4%. Areas rich in deer ticks tend to include those where honeysuckle, pachysandra, and coniferous trees can be found, and ticks will often climb up to the tops of tall grasses and wait for a passing arm or leg to brush by before grabbing hold and biting. Ensuring that you and your family know the areas to avoid for deer ticks and improving tick-awareness are key elements in preventing infection with Lyme disease.
Flagging Down Troublesome Ticks – A Simple Home Experiment
A little experiment that can alert you to the risks of deer ticks in your local area can be carried out using a simple piece of white cloth and a straight stick or piece of dowel. Attach the piece of cloth, which should be around a square-yard in size, to a four or five foot long stick to create a tick-hunting ‘flag’. Then walk through the borders of your yard or nearby park, checking paths, shrubbery, tall grass, and the edges of wooded areas by brushing the ‘flag’ against any vegetation as you go. In waving the cloth from ground level up to knee height any ticks nearby will jump onto the cloth and should show up against the white surface as you check every few minutes. This is not a method for eradicating ticks from the area as, even when you pick them all off the flag and submerge them in soapy water to kill them, removing these ticks represents only a tiny fraction of those present. Instead, this ‘flagging’ technique is helpful in discovering whether there are ticks present in the area and can promote better tick-awareness in those around you. Dress appropriately when carrying out this activity however, by covering up in light clothes and checking for ticks on your clothing afterwards.