Not Every Tick Carries Disease

There has been a story on Facebook from two years ago that is suddenly receiving a lot of new circulation. The story warns of the very dangerous Powassan virus, transmitted by ticks. The scare tactics are working, because I have been receiving messages from many people worried about ticks.

According to the CDC, approximately 75 cases of Powassan virus disease were reported in the United States over the past 10 years. Most cases have occurred in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. Signs and symptoms of infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. There is no evidence that this virus affects dogs or cats. That's approximately 7 cases per year in the entire country. However, there have been over 1,000 deaths in dogs from being given isoxazoline-derivative oral flea and tick preventatives in the past three years. Yet social media has not gone viral with this information.

While social media would have us believe this virus is spreading like wildfire, not everyone is convinced that the virus is spreading fast. Rafal Tokarz and his colleagues studied ticks in New York state and found only 1 to 2 percent carried the virus. That's compared to 20 percent carrying the Lyme bacterium, said Tokarz, an associate research scientist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. "If it's 20 percent then your chances are one in five that the tick on you will give you Lyme," he added.

This leads to the next point; just because you find one tick on your pet, that does not automatically mean your pet has been exposed to a horrible, deadly disease like Lyme, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or any number of other tick-borne diseases. As a society, we have been trained to go into panic mode when we see ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, and other pests. We are trained to reach for deadly chemicals JUST IN CASE we might be exposed.

I choose to follow a different path. I use natural alternatives to keep my pets and family pest-free. We use essential oil sprays, as needed, when we will be in high tick areas. Ticks like shady areas with dense tall grasses, trees, or shrubs. We keep the grass cut short and the dogs away from low lying shrubs and wooded areas. Our cats do go into those areas, so they get daily tick checks. Food grade diatomaceous earth has many benefits; it can be used along with beneficial nematodes in the yard to decrease flea and tick populations. (The squirrels and bunnies will thank you too!) Cedar oil products are available to spray in the yard, as well. Some people like to give garlic tablets to dogs; a product with proven safety should be used.

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