Can We Wipe Out Ticks

Elaine Sutton
• Sunday, 22 November, 2020
• 7 min read

Annoying as they are, if we removed them all, certain birds and bats would also go extinct as that is their main food source. Ticks play a role in our ecosystem, as food for some frogs, birds, lizards, squirrels, mice, and other rodents.

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Imagine you have to pick a spot in your yard and wait for food to pass by close enough for you to grab it. Some tick scan go weeks and months without anything to eat, so they have no problem waiting for you or your dog to pass by.

If the tick successfully lands on the warm body (human, dog, mouse, etc), it will walk around up to several hours looking for the perfect meal spot. Ticks prefer to find thin skin that is close to a small vein.

The skin on your arms, hands, knees, and other places are far too thick for a tick to find a vein. Instead, the tick will travel around until it finds a nice dark and warm place where it can sink its head into your skin and into the small vein.

However, one of the first things the tick does is inject a nerve toxin into your body that numbs the area. Now the tick can dig deeper into your skin, then assemble a straw-like tube that will suck the blood out of your vein and into its body.

The tick scan carry different types of bacteria that produce symptoms similar to a bad cold or flu. The other positive fact is that only a very small percentage of ticks carry the harmful bacteria.

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However, in some new research from Louisiana State University, scientists fed ticks cow blood that had certain compounds added to it. The compounds interrupted the tick's saliva production, which meant they could no longer feed on mammals.

The concern that will need to be studied is whether that compound lingers in the environment and harms other life forms. Mike Szydlowski is science coordinator for Columbia Public Schools.

Stafford and colleagues identified a fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae strain F 52, that is apparently useful in killing nymph ticks. A 2007 study by Stafford and Abuja Bharadwaj, found that the fungus was effective if applied during periods of high nymph activity.

However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved strain F 52 in 2010 for nonfood greenhouse and outdoor residential use. Otherwise, there is no practical way, nor any popular desire, to eliminate deer, white-footed mice, and other hosts, Stafford said.

The best strategy against Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten, experts agreed. Light colored clothes make ticks easier to spot.

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Yale-New Haven Hospital suggests wearing a hat and keeping long hair tied back. Some of those asking had heard reports, apparently claiming that tick populations would be decimated, if not eradicated, by the prolonged period of freezing weather.

Ticks in other stages of development also overwinter in the shelter and relative comfort of the soil or within leaf litter and ground clutter, where snow cover can actually provide additional protection from freezing temperatures and wind. Even when the air temperature lingers in the double digits below zero F, things that are covered with an insulating blanket of snow will remain much nearer to 32 °F.

And many experts believe that, even without snow, it takes a long period of bitterly cold weather to even have a chance of knocking tick populations back. The rate of mortality greatly increases, however, with the combination of freezing conditions and liquid water.

Overwintering insects and non-insects alike (i.e. ticks), must remain dry; insulated by the surrounding ice and snow; but not touching it. And it wasn’t a clear die-off; just an increased probability of dying.” Regardless of winter conditions, more than 80 percent of the ticks survived at both sites.

According to Peter Mensch, an entomologist and Senior Extension Associate with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Hudson Valley Lab in Highland, NY, “most living things are able to survive environmental extremes if they have enough time to transition and acclimate to change.” It’s interesting to note, too, that a 2010 study from the Journal of Clinical Investigation showed that some ticks developed a type of glycoprotein, a compound produced within their bodies, which works to help them survive the cold.

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Some tick species overwinter on warm mammalian hosts; often moose or deer, but also black bears, dogs, and occasionally horses or cattle. Then, during the winter months, to the hosts themselves; feeding and molting until spring arrives, at which time they drop to the ground, where the females lay their eggs.

NYS Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program Extension Support Specialist, Ellen Lamp man, first looks at how extremely harsh weather conditions may impact mammals; small mammals, like mice, when considering the question of the recent frigid weather and how it will impact tick populations. In a recent IPM news article she writes, “Animals that have a harder time finding food are more likely to (in order of lessening consequences) die of starvation, succumb to other stresses such as disease or predation, fail to mate, give birth to fewer young, and give birth less often.

Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns. Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.

Discourage unwelcome animals (such as deer, raccoons, and stray dogs) from entering your yard by constructing fences. Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.

Science News is a nonprofit. After spending mornings exploring the fields, forests, and gardens of their outdoor classroom just north of New York City, the students and teachers at Little Leaf at Andrus-on-Hudson nature school perform an essential task: the tick check.

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For added protection, Theresa McCartney, Little Leaf’s founder and director, had the perimeter of the garden classroom sprayed with the pesticide permethrin. Scientists are testing new approaches that may help curb the explosion of tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease and babesiosis.

But there are no large-scale tick-control solutions demonstrated to work, according to Richard Outfield, Ph.D., a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Mill brook, N.Y. In the meantime, people are left to protect themselves against the serious threat of disease using the same precautions taken at the Little Leaf school.

Thomas Mather, Ph.D., director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease, has been studying ticks since 1983. In a recent nationally representative survey of 2,052 Americans by Consumer Reports, 4 in 10 said they had experienced a tick bite.

A study published in March predicts that as the world warms, a billion new people could be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya between now and 2080. Funding for treating and especially preventing them is “orders of magnitude lower” than it is for other public health threats, the authors wrote in their report.

“Most tools for control have been developed for mosquitoes, and ticks are very different organisms,” says Adriana Costero-Saint Denis, Ph.D., a vector biology program officer at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Ten years ago, researchers led by Thomas Platts-Mills, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Virginia were just starting to learn that bites from Lone Star ticks were somehow causing a mysterious and potentially life-threatening allergy to red meat.

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At the same lab, they’d been working to figure out what was causing a strange allergic reaction to red meat, which had been observed in a number of patients. Platts-Mills and colleagues traced the drug reaction to a sugar (known as alpha-gal) found in animal products, which ended up in the medicine because it was produced using cells derived from mice.

The question was why people in these places had all developed this unusual allergy, which at the time had not shown up elsewhere in the country. “At the time, we didn’t know this thing was going to become huge,” says Scott Commons, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the original research team.

Stranger still, other species of ticks are somehow causing people to develop similar allergies to red meat on the other side of the world, in places such as Australia, South Africa, and Sweden. Lone Star ticks have traditionally lived in the Southeast, but as the climate warms they’ve been spreading.

In addition to the meat allergy, Lone Stars carry Bourbon virus, Heartland virus, Southern tick-associated rash illness, and the pathogens that cause the bacterial infections ehrlichiosis and tularemia, which is so infectious it’s considered a potential biological weapon. These tick scan essentially clone themselves, reproducing asexually and laying between one and two thousand eggs at a time.

Experts say these measures offer fairly effective protection on an individual level, although they haven’t been enough to stop the spread of disease. Years of attempts to persuade people to take steps to protect themselves haven’t necessarily stopped the spread of these illnesses, so the goal now is to try to get the deer population under control, Bevilacqua says.

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If the new spray, the bait boxes, or the two combined successfully reduce tick-borne disease when deployed at the neighborhood scale, it will be a first. To make a dent in the problem, efforts to control deer and other host populations will probably need to be combined with new types of pesticides, Diuk-Wasser says.

Scientists are also working on ways to edit tick genes so that they can no longer spread disease, though such strategies are nowhere near ready for public use. Commons says that in the back of his mind, the concern isn’t just that we’re short of solutions for diseases like babesiosis, the hundreds of thousands of Lyme infections every year, and more.

The fact that scientists are just now discovering that tick scan spread an allergy, for example, suggests that “there are perhaps other things that tick bites can do that we don’t quite recognize yet,” he says. Do a thorough body check, especially in places where ticks tend to attach themselves, such as inside the bellybutton, between the legs, in and around the ears and hair, and the back of the knees.

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