As Midwestern turkey hunters and others hit the woods this spring, there’s one priority that should be on everyone’s prep list.
Apply permethrin to boots, socks, cap, gloves, facemask and clothes to ensure no tick hangs around long enough to bite.
Another option is to buy camo gear pretreated with permethrin by the manufacturer. This chemical withstands repeated washing, so it doesn’t need to be reapplied before each outing. If you don’t use permethrin-treated gear to thwart ticks, at least apply DEET before heading into the woods.
Those simple, inexpensive precautions let you focus on the fun and excitement of spring turkey hunting. Hunters who take chances with ticks could expose themselves to long-term suffering from the several tick-borne diseases still spreading across the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported nearly 60,000 cases of tick-borne diseases in 2017 and nearly 48,000 in 2018. Those numbers are up dramatically from 22,527 tick-borne cases nationwide in 2004.
Most turkey hunters have heard about Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne ailment, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. But those are just two of at least seven ailments linked to four tick species in Midwestern states: the black-legged (deer) tick, American dog tick, brown dog tick and Lone Star tick.
In addition, even though the CDC hasn’t officially linked alpha-gal syndrome, or AGS—the so-called “red-meat allergy”—to bites from Lone Star ticks and others, that connection seems likely. Information prepared by Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic reports a connection between AGS and tick bites in some parts of the country.
People who develop the AGS allergy often suffer rashes, hives, swelling and other reactions three to six hours after eating beef, pork or venison. Some require hospitalization and adrenaline injections. Most tick-borne diseases can be treated with antibiotics like doxycycline monohydrate, but there’s no known cure for AGS, and the condition might be lifelong for some victims.
Researchers in 2018, however, found that people with blood types B and AB might be five times less likely to contract AGS than people with the more common blood types O or A. The researchers went into the study expecting people with B and AB blood types to make up 20 percent of those with AGS. Instead, only 4.35 percent of AGS patients had B or AB blood types.
Either way, tick-borne diseases are increasingly common across the Midwest. Lyme disease is especially prevalent in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which rank 10th and 11th, respectively, in the nation for Lyme cases. Likewise, Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been increasing nationwide since 2010, especially in southeastern states. Midwestern states most afflicted with RMSF include Missouri (94.5 cases per million), Kansas (74.8 cases per million) and Kentucky (56.1 cases per million).
The CDC reports that men account for the majority of cases of RMSF, with incidence rates steadily rising with age. Those most susceptible are 40 and older, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. That group typically includes patients being treated for cancer or advanced HIV infections, and those who received organ transplants.
Minnesota and Wisconsin also account for most of the Midwest’s cases of anaplasmosis and babesiosis, but the latter is far less common. Kansas and Missouri are also top states nationwide for ehrlichiosis and tularemia, but to a lesser extent for the latter.
Other tick-borne diseases in the Midwest include:
- Borrelia mayonii, an infection found primarily in Wisconsin and Minnesota
- Borrelia miyamotoi, the range of which is similar to Lyme diseasev
- Bourbon virus
- Heartland virus, linked to the Lone Star tick
- Powassan virus, linked to the black-legged tick
DRIVE AWAY TICKS
The surest way to beat tick-borne diseases is to not contract them in the first place. That’s why disease experts encourage hunters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts to take standard precautions against ticks, such as wearing long-sleeve shirts, tucking pant legs into socks, conducting full-body checks when returning indoors and showering soon after.
To ensure even better protection, only wear clothes treated with permethrin, a powerful, effective insecticide that should not be applied to skin. In a CDC test in 2018, researchers tested 10 sets of permethrin-treated clothes to see how well they deterred black-legged ticks, Lone Star ticks and the American dog tick.
The tests documented that permethrin-treated clothes quickly cause ticks to fall off. The researchers reported a “very strong impact” on black-legged ticks in the nymphal stage. These ticks are considered the primary vectors of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. The study documented that most ticks fall away within five minutes of contacting permethrin-treated clothes.
To achieve long-term reductions in tick-borne diseases for everyone in society, the only solution is to reduce tick numbers themselves. That task isn’t easy, however, given that it would require:
- Reducing deer numbers
- Conducting large-scale burns to destroy thick leaf litter where ticks live
- Increasing red fox numbers to prey on small rodents, which carry ticks in their nymph stage, when they’re most likely to infect people
“Ticks are bad, and we could probably reduce their numbers, but it seems that society lacks the will to control them,” says Grant Woods, a wildlife biologist in Missouri. “Prescribed burns eliminate the leaf-litter ticks need to survive, but modern-day burns are seldom big enough to make a noticeable difference. We can also reduce ticks by reducing deer numbers and small-rodent populations. Deer and rodents carry ticks at different stages in the ticks’ life.
“But none of those large-scale controls can be done easily or efficiently, and so hunters are kind of left to our own devices,” Woods says. “That’s why the go-to tactic for most hunters is treating their clothes with permethrin.”