Raising vegetables is good for the body, and growing flowers is good for the soul, but working outdoors in Vermont also means potential exposure to ticks, including those carrying Lyme disease.
Vermonters love hiking, camping, and hitting swimming holes, but gardening is also high on the list of warm-weather pursuits. And while signs and pamphlets at state parks warn visitors of the dangers of ticks, most Vermonters needn’t walk further than the lawn, the backyard swing set — or the garden — to pick up an unwanted eight-legged hitchhiker.
Vermont is home to 15 known species of ticks, per the state Department of Health, but one is a particular concern: the black-legged tick, which transmits Lyme disease. Per the Centers for Disease Control, Vermont lagged only Maine in the incidence of Lyme disease per capita in 2019, at 113.1 cases per 100,000 people. The tiny arachnid (ticks are not insects; they’re in the same family as spiders) that carries Lyme can be the size of a poppy seed. The Department suggests a thorough tick check after spending time outdoors to get ticks off clothing and remove any on the skin.
“Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease typically begin three to 30 days after a tick bite,” noted Vermont Department of Health state public health veterinarian Natalie A. Kwit in an email. “Contact your healthcare provider if you develop any of the symptoms listed below, especially during times of year when ticks are active.” These symptoms include erythema migrans (the bullseye rash often associated with Lyme disease), headache, fever, chills, muscle or joint pain, and fatigue.
According to Kwit, Lyme disease is on the rise in Vermont, with most cases in the southern part of the state, although increasing everywhere. Per a Vermont Department of Health report, scientists believe this is a result of climate change; species that used to be limited to more southern parts of the United States have begun to move north as previously colder areas experience shorter, milder winters. Vermonters see this in declining moose populations, which the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife says is tied to increased numbers of winter ticks.
Of course, preventing a tick from hopping aboard in the first place is the best way to avoid a tick bite. Overgrown grass and brush are great tick habitat, per the Department of Health, and should be avoided. The department also suggests using tick repellent and permethrin-treated clothing to keep ticks at bay. Pets, too, should receive a tick repellent treatment — veterinarians can provide them. The CDC provides suggestions for minimizing tick habitat in the yard and garden, and these include removing tall brush close to homes, and removing trash from yards to avoid providing a place for ticks to hide.
“Anywhere there is less tick habitat and fewer wildlife will have fewer ticks, and therefore tick-borne disease risk,” said Kwit.
Tick avoidance tips from the Vermont Department of Health:
keep grass short and brush trimmed, especially around houses, gardens, play areas and anywhere else people and pets frequent.
use approved tick repellents for humans and pets.
wear light-colored clothing to help spot ticks.
cover skin in long sleeves and pants, with socks pulled over pants cuffs.
check all of your skin and clothing for ticks before going inside, and place clothing in dryer (high heat) for 10 minutes.