Jack Simpson: Birthday gift with an unintended consequence



On my birthday several years ago, my family members gave me a gift of blueberry bushes. Loved ones even helped me plant them.

Over the next few years, the plants have been pruned, mulched and fertilized in hopes that one day they would produce a good crop.

It has been a struggle keeping the deer and birds from harvesting before we do. With all the rain this year and the attention, we have a good yield and are enjoying picking and eating fresh blueberries on our breakfast cereal.

Picking a bucket of berries is a challenge because watching and waiting for us are cause for alarm -- ticks! So far seven or eight have managed to bite me, and about as many have been reported biting my spouse.

Ticks live off other animals. They are kin to scorpions, spiders and mites. These parasites arrive on site with deer, birds and small animals. As berry pickers, we make great hosts for ticks just hanging out on grass and bushes awaiting our arrival. Ticks are dangerous and they carry diseases which they transfer to the blood of their victims. For this reason, it is scary to see one of these pests attached to your skin sucking your blood. You wonder, "Will I get Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or some other disease from the bite?"

When I see an attached tick on me, I yell for my wife to bring the tweezers. With so many attacks, she has become an expert at removal. And, she knows how to get the head so it does not remain to fester and itch.

I've heard all kinds of suggestions about how to get an attached tick to loosen its hold on you. Put gasoline, kerosene, chloroform, or liquid soap on the insect. Take a hot shower. I've had little luck with any of these methods.

It is hard to break a tick's hold on you. They draw blood through a beak and the beak has strong teeth bent backwards. These teeth make the tick able to hold fast to you.

With all the bites suffered, we make more preparations when we go berry picking. We wear old clothes, tuck our pants into our socks. Try to wear long pants and shirts, and we spray, spray, spray with Deet. Does this help? Somewhat, but still a few ticks manage to pierce our defenses.

Since my spouse spotted a tick in the berry bucket, we have taken to leaving our picking garments outside. Ticks are persistent little devils, aren't they?

So intent are they in their attacks, ticks have made our enjoyment of my birthday gift a first-class gamble. We know that somewhere between the house and the berry patch are enemy ticks waiting to detect our breath, body odors and motions. They are, we have been told, "guesting," holding on to leaves or grass by their third or fourth pair of legs. Their first pair of legs is outstretched just waiting to climb onto us and begin sucking our blood. Some will bite us immediately and feed. Others, we may spot later, will roam our skin looking for a suitable place to cut a hole in our epidermis. Kind of sounds like the making of a vampire movie, doesn't it?

Anyway, with any bite, a major tick-borne disease may await us. We could get Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, tularemia, meningoenaphalitis or who knows what.

Ticks are numerous this year, and they are dangerous. Take precautions. If you have a fever, confusion, headaches following a bite, it may be time to consult your physician. If you are harvesting summer crops, be careful. The enemy is stalking you.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author and law enforcement officer.