Ticks: Summer’s Unwanted Guests – The New York Times


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On Nantucket, Jill Kargman, the author, actress and creator of the Bravo show “Odd Mom Out,” checks for ticks on her son, Fletch.

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Jonathan Nimerfroh for The New York Times

At a recent dinner party in Greenwich, Conn., Topic A was not stock futures or boarding school, but something decidedly less tony: ticks.

Jill Kargman, the author, actress and creator of the Bravo show “Odd Mom Out” who was there, said the anxious conversation reflected a growing phobia of diseases borne by the arachnid among her set, with invasive nightly checks of spouses and children — limbs spread, hair frantically raked — now as routine as brushing teeth.

“I go into a Lyme panic, since my kids love to play Roll Down the Hill,” said Ms. Kargman, 40 and a mother of three, describing repeat visits to the Nantucket Cottage Hospital emergency room for drugs (doxycycline, the antibiotic of choice for Lyme disease, is now oft-nicknamed “doxy”), after spotting the telltale bull’s-eye rash that sometimes heralds it.

Another guest at the party, Emily Stern, 40 and a mother of three, received a diagnosis of ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne illness, several days after attending a barbecue on July 4, which has only amplified her vigilance.

“That’s the cocktail party conversation: ‘Is it brain fog or is it Lyme?’ ” said Ms. Stern, a psychologist. “It has that feeling of an epidemic. It’s so on the forefront of everyone’s thinking.”

Just when you think you have your summer rituals down (preferred toenail shade, weekend house rosé, truly effective sunscreen), there’s suddenly one more, decidedly unpleasant item to add to the list: the tick check. And you really should keep the routine there until fall’s freeze, when ticks stop biting. Don’t forget to check the dogs — or the horses — either.

In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that Northeastern counties with “high incidence” of Lyme had increased by more than 320 percent from 1993 to 2012. The C.D.C. estimated in 2013 that the number of Americans with a diagnosis of Lyme disease annually is about 300,000.

And as Ms. Stern can attest, these little arachnids carry myriad pathogens that lead to other diseases and infections. Ticks don’t know from waterfront property, pricey deer fences, organic lawn spray or Southampton Hospital’s new Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center.

In upscale precincts, tick victims have become a cause: A “Time for Lyme” gala supporting Global Lyme Alliance this last spring in Greenwich raised more than $850,000, according to the organization.

The alliance is working with a cast member of “Real Housewives of New York City,” Heather Thomson, to “take back the outdoors,” as another “Real Housewife,” Yolanda Foster of Beverly Hills, Calif., said she suffers from Lyme. It doesn’t stop with “Housewives.” On “Good Morning America” in June, the pop star Avril Lavigne cried about being afflicted with Lyme.

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“I go into a Lyme panic, since my kids love to play Roll Down the Hill,” said Jill Kargman, a mother of three.

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Jonathan Nimerfroh for The New York Times

“When you live in an area where deer are as common as pigeons are in the city, plucking ticks off your child has become the new normal,” said Patricia Fall, 48, an owner of a public relations branding firm, who not long ago relocated her family to East Hampton from Manhattan after 12 years of weekends.

In Montauk, the fashion designer Cynthia Rowley said one of her store managers contracted Lyme this season, though her two daughters have thus far escaped thanks to frequent thorough once-overs.

“I have found a ton of ticks and have noticed that this summer they are tinier than ever,” said Ms. Rowley, who has been going there since 1999. “You do get to know every little inch of your kid’s body: ‘Oh, that’s a beauty mark, that’s a freckle, that’s a mole.’ Normally I don’t think I would know that.”

Such parent-child intimacy may result in some interesting therapy down the road. “I used to tell my children, ‘Grab your ankles,’ ” said Joelle Wyser-Pratte, a financial consultant and veteran of the tick wars with a weekend house in Bedford, N.Y., and three teenagers.

“I hope they’re feeling around in there,” she added.

Two of the perhaps more unlikely spokeswomen for Lyme awareness are Kourtney and Khloé Kardashian. “Time for a tick check,” Kourtney posted on Instagram, with a preview clip from their show, “Kourtney and Khloé Take the Hamptons,” to the tune of 141,000 likes. Spoiler alert: One sister helps the other remove a tick.

In upstate New York, tick checks between consenting adults have earned the nickname “Hudson Valley hookup.”

If you must go it alone, however, here are some hints from Brooke Geahan, 36, the founder of Accompanied Lit Society and Booktrack and frequent visitor to Shelter Island, N.Y., whose Twitter profile reads in part, “tick disease fighter & advocate.”

“At night I always take a shower — no matter what,” Ms. Geahan said. “I soap up and check under my arms and genital area. That’s where they love. With the soap and water, you can make sure your skin is perfectly smooth. I go through my hair. If I feel something like sand or grit, I dry it and go through it again.”

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Ms. Kargman swears by this remover.

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Afterward she douses herself in geranium oil and lemongrass body balm, purported tick repellers. For added prevention, she eschews bed skirts (ticks can use them to ascend) and chooses all-white linens, for better visibility.

If such measures fail, the C.D.C. suggests grasping an attached tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pulling it straight out, then disinfecting and disposing (without crushing). Ms. Kargman swears by a tick remover called Dr. Joe’s Tick It Away, sold at, among other places, Global Pediatrics on York Avenue on the Upper East Side.

A tick check is not an easy task to outsource to institutions, because of liability concerns as much as privacy. In East Hampton, the public school system has a permission slip for tick removal during school hours that states ticks will not be removed without parental permission. The form reads: “I understand that the nurse will not be held responsible if portions of the tick remain embedded in the child.”

Ms. Fall still laughs about the time she got a “frantic” phone call from a teacher at her daughter’s Upper West Side preschool. “She prefaced the call by saying that my daughter was O.K., but that she had a tick on the back of her ear and needed to be taken to the doctor immediately,” she said.

Ms. Fall grabbed her tweezers, walked over to school, calmly plucked the tick off her daughter’s ear and flushed it down the toilet. “The teacher and the headmaster, who had been brought in for backup, were afraid to even go near my child and were incredulous that she had accepted this as nothing but standard operating procedure,” she said.

When it comes to houseguests, Ms. Wyser-Pratte treads lightly, not wanting to alarm them. She leaves oils and lotions by the doors. “You want to go outside? Here’s the armor,” she said. “It’s part of the process, with the sunscreen and everything else.”

Ms. Geahan owned up to “policing” her friends, in person and on social media. “It’s sad kids can’t go jump in a pile of leaves,” she said. “I see pictures friends put on Instagram and I’m that horrible Debbie Downer friend. I’m like, ‘Noooo! Check your child now!’ ”

Ms. Rowley finds herself wanting to shout at tourists with a baby lying in the grass, which she now avoids, along with wooded areas. “I’m like, ‘Get that baby off the grass!’ That’s what I’m thinking in my head. Chubby babies are like tick smorgasbord. They’re crawling in all of those crevices and rolls of chub. They’re hard to find.”

But, she said: “The whole thing is not to panic. It’s like anything. You can’t get too caught up in all of the drama.”

For her, it is not ticks that are summertime’s greatest menace, but tourists. Ms. Rowley recalled designing a “funny” T-shirt with the word “Montick” on it a couple of years ago, which she said she hoped would deter people from coming to her longtime summer idyll. “I guess it didn’t work,” Ms. Rowley said with a laugh. “I need a Plan B.”



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