Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ticked Off!

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the August 17, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

I can’t imagine that mosquitoes have ever been very popular. Yes, there are reasons for mosquitoes in nature. They are food to other creatures, like bats. They also eat other tiny creatures on ponds and lakes and therefore keep them clean. Mainly, though, they seem to be simply a nuisance and spreader of disease. Malaria, elephantiasis, West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis are all caused by the mosquito as it spreads the infection from carrier to victim.

Until a decade ago, none of us thought the annoying mosquito bites we endured in woods and yards in New England were particularly harmful. They were a nuisance in the height of summer and most of us sprayed or lathered on repellants and oils to avoid them. We tried mainly to protect the perfect, creamy skin of children but often decided to brave the bites on our own adult skin. That was before the first American cases of the West Nile Virus were reported in 1999. Another disease spread by mosquitoes, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, was first discovered in Massachusetts in 1938 but recent incidences have been increasing at a scary rate.

This week part of the Commonwealth is taking on the nasty mosquito and at least six communities in southeastern Massachusetts are spraying chemicals through the night air. Communities including Norton and Bridgewater are advising residents to shut air conditioning and fans off and close their windows to the pesticides. Triple E has also been found on the North Shore in Peabody, Topsfield and Ipswich and spraying is commencing there, as well.

Ticks, on the other hand, have always been particularly offensive. Decades ago, I was aghast when we moved to New England from California and I realized that ticks were a part of daily life during the summer months. I attended to the bloodsuckers when I spied them on our pets or every so often found them on ourselves. They were creepy but there didn’t seem to be a reason to actually fear them until recent years with the creep of Lyme disease across New England.

And so now the innocence of barefoot and carefree summer fun has become a summer memory. Parents, walkers, hikers and pet owners scour themselves, their children and pets for the creepy ticks that live in grasses and trees and latch onto our clothing, hair and skin.

Educating our children when they are young about these dangerous parasites is important. Fortunately, there are sufficient children’s books that describe ticks and mosquitoes. “Blood Suckers!: Deadly Mosquito Bites” by John DiConsiglio (2008) might appeal to all budding entomologists. The book is one of a series called Medical Files which examine the science and technology behind some medical cases and mysteries.

“Ticks: Dangerous Hitchhikers” by Sandra Markle (2011) has plenty of close-up photographs and diagrams along with plenty of information about the dangerous disease-causing organisms they carry. Ticks are parasitic arachnids, just like mites. Children can learn to identify and avoid them.

“Feasting Bedbugs, Mites and Ticks” by Carrie Gleason (2011) is one of the Creepy Crawlies series for children. Another, “What’s Eating You?: Parasites the Inside Story” by Nicola Davies (2007) includes all kinds of details about ticks, lice, fleas and other unwelcome guests on our bodies and in our homes.

Rob Dunn has recently written a book in defense of some of the creepy, crawlies that we are avoiding in nature. “The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today” (2011) defends some of the nasty things we find in nature and actually explains that creatures have a purpose in our lives.

“Mosquito: A Natural History of our Most Persistent and Deadly Foe” by Andrew Spielman (2001) is a complete study of the tiny insect that stings and bites. Spielman is a Harvard professor who has devoted his life to learning about the mosquito and passing on that knowledge. He shares the history of the mosquito that includes, among other stories, the deaths of men working on the Panama Canal caused by the diseases spread by the mosquito. He explains that mosquitoes are becoming more resistant to pesticides meant to control them. His book was written over a decade ago and admittedly there has been more panic over the spread of Triple E since.

“The Mosquito Crusades: A History of the American Anti-Mosquito Movement from the Reed Commission to the First Earth Day” by Gordon Patterson (2009) explains that dangerous mosquitoes have spread malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever in addition to encephalitis and he follows the efforts of groups across the country who have tried to manage the population.

While we need the help of local civic groups and state and local governments to control the mosquito population, there are many individual things we can do to try to prevent ticks from coming into our homes. “Ticks Off! Controlling Ticks That Transmit Lyme Disease on Your Property” by Patrick Guilfoile (2004) claims that 70% of the ticks that actually invade our bodies and homes come from our own yards.

The 3rd edition of “Ticks: What You Can Do About Them” by Roger Drummond published by Wilderness Press in 2004 describes the different kinds of ticks we encounter in the US. There are hard and soft ticks and they include the deer tick, brown dog ticks and Rocky Mountain ticks. Additionally, Susan Carol Hauser has written two books, “Outwitting Ticks” (2001) and “A Field Guide to Ticks: Prevention and Treatment of Lyme Disease and Other Ailments Caused by Ticks, Scorpions, Spiders, and Mites” (2008.)

If you would like to reserve any of the titles above please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or visit the Minuteman Library Network catalog online to reserve them.