Be warned, the clock is tick-ing.
Spring, summer and early fall is tick season in New Hampshire. Ticks are most active from May to July, a dangerous span considering the amount of time people spend outdoors. Ticks are small arachnids, ectoparasites that live by primarily feeding on the blood of mammals and birds.
Ticks can be categorized into two main groups: Hard ticks, and soft ticks. Hard ticks are the largest family of ticks. They can be most commonly identified by the shield on their back which is referred as the scutum – it grows to accommodate the large capacity of blood consumed. Adult ticks can enlarge anywhere from 200-600 times their unfed body weight.
Unlike hard ticks, soft ticks possess a leathery external skeleton. The mouthparts of a soft tick are under the body and are not visible when viewed from above. Soft ticks are noted for various diseases, including the infamous Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tick-borne relapsing fever. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick.
Exeter Summer’s Director of Nursing, Nancy C. Thompson said, “Any tick bites that would be suspected to be from a deer tick, the student would be treated with an antibiotic called doxycycline.”
According to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, in 2015, ‘there were an estimated 1,373 cases of Lyme disease identified” in New Hampshire. This figure is one of the highest rates in the country.
Rarer diseases that are caused by tick bites include anaplasmosis, babesiosis and the fatal Powassan virus.
The N.H. DHHS also reports that in 2015, there were 110 reported cases of anaplasmosis and 53 cases of babesiosis. Meanwhile, there has been only two recorded cases of the Powassan virus – one in 2013 and the second in 2016.
General symptoms of these tick diseases include, but are not limited to – fever, headache, fatigue, skin rash, muscle aches, and chills. Powassan is more severe, with symptoms including vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and seizures.
Luckily, Nurse Thompson said that “We have not a student present to the health center with a tick bite so far this Summer Session.” Despite not knowing the specific figures, Nurse Thompson said she was sure that there have been previous students bitten by ticks during the Summer Sessions.
She said she could not share any students’ tick experiences as “that would be a student’s confidential medical information”.
But an Upper School Student, Rocio Gonzalez Lantero, said she got a tick bite when she was just 12, in Germany. “I had it once, in a summer camp. And then like, I woke up and I was so scared because I didn’t know that existed. I didn’t know it was a tick. I just saw, like a big, black thing. Well, for me it was huge. It was scary. It was terrible. Once I saw it, I started to shout. I was doing the pony tail and I wondered like – ‘Why do I have a black thing in there?’ and I went to my friend to tell her. I remembered it has like little things in its body.” She squirmed as she told her story. “I went like, to the counselor and said ‘I have something here.’ and they were like ‘It’s a tick’.”
The story took an interesting and amusing turn as she explained that the counselor was in no rush. “He said, ‘I wanna get breakfast, before taking it.’ And he told me to get breakfast too,” recollected Rocio. “So we went to the dining hall, and he was like – ‘You’re not eating’ and I answered – ‘Well, I’m not eating with like, an insect or whatever this is, in my body.’ And he just went super mad. But I couldn’t eat with the thing in my arm.” Her disdain for this counselor was evident as she continued the story. “I hated him, I started to shout at him in Spanish. Because he did not want to take it off and was laughing at me.”
Finally, the counselor removed the tick, but Rocio revealed that “instead of killing it or whatever, he threw it to the grass again.” The story ends with Rocio explaining why she was extremely paranoid. “In Spain, there are not a lot. That’s why I was so scared. And I actually didn’t know that you can get like, Lyme Disease. I did not even know it existed because I was so little.”
Although students in Exeter are encouraged to enjoy the outdoors, many supervisors are ensuring that students take the necessary steps to avert themselves and others from getting bitten by ticks.
The two most obvious steps to avoid the nasty critters would be to cover up and avoid tall grass. Insecticides can also be used to repel ticks. Covering up and lightening up are also important prevention techniques. Covering up prevents ticks from latching on; while wearing light colors will give you an easier time identifying them. After high-risk activities, one should always inspect for ticks and clean up.
The nurse’s advice for students is to “use bug spray with DEET (repellent) and to wear long pants and/or sleeves in the woods.” New Hampshire is rural, with a lot of woods around. Where there are woods in the North, there are ticks.
“If you think you may have been bitten by a tick,” said Nurse Thompson, “come to the health center to be checked out by a nurse.”