They are insect-like parasites as small as a poppy seed, but carry a pathogenic punch that can sicken even the strongest and healthiest of humans.
With the onset of warm weather and outdoor activities, awareness of tick-borne diseases, including Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, and Anaplasmosis becomes critical on the Cape and Islands.
This year, a new service is being offered to Mashpee residents that can help provide some peace of mind if a tick is found on your body, pet, or around the house or yard.
Through a program funded by a Governor’s Community Innovation Challenge Grant, residents of Barnstable, Nantucket, Middlesex, and Franklin counties are eligible to have ticks tested for pathogens by the University of Massachusetts Laboratory of Medical Zoology. Up to 100 ticks per town will be tested for free through the fall, and the program is currently up-and-running.
In Barnstable County, the program is being administered by the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and ticks can be submitted for free testing at www.tickreport.com.
Larry J. Dapsis, an entomologist or self proclaimed “bug guy,” at the extension said that this program is the result of a recommendation by the Massachusetts Lyme Disease Commission that there be more surveillance of where disease-carrying ticks are being found.
“It’s a scary picture,” Mr. Dapsis said, referring to the tick-borne disease infection rates that are being found on the Cape.
How To Submit
A Tick For Testing
He also noted that while Lyme Disease is widely viewed as the most prevalent of the infections, that Babesiosis infection is on the rise with the highest increases occurring on the Cape. Mr. Dapsis describes Lyme as a bacteria, while Babesiosis is a parasite, much like malaria, that can often be serious and fatal. Anaplasmosis is a parasite that invades white blood cells, and acts a lot like Lyme, yet does not produce a positive test result.
Mr. Dapsis also stresses that there needs to be more of an effort protecting children from tick-borne diseases, as the highest rates of new infections are being found in the 5- to 9-year-old age group.
According to a news release issued by the University of Massachusetts, “Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Surveillance statistics show that in Massachusetts, confirmed cases of Lyme Disease have increased from 23.9 cases per 100,000 population in 2004 to 60.9 cases per 100,000 population in 2008, and the disease is now considered epidemic in all of Massachusetts.”
While ticks are primarily associated with warm weather, Mr. Dapsis warns Cape residents not to be fooled. While 85 percent of tick-borne infections occur from May to August, he says that Cape Cod winters are not harsh enough to kill them and that the danger of an infection persists year-round. Ticks are not often found in areas of full sunlight, but are prevalent along the edges of yards and in woodlands.
Mashpee Health Agent Glen E. Harrington applauds the program.
“This will help us see where the disease carrying ticks are in town and what the potential risks are to the community. It’s an education and surveillance program that we have not had before,” he said, adding that the only data the town had previously received was mandatory reports from the Department of Public Health when a resident had been diagnosed with one of the diseases.