Another Kind Of Summer Tourist
Residents of Cape Cod have gotten used to swarms of tourists in the summer. A lot of them have also learned to live with a very different seasonal visitor: ticks.
The prevalence of Lyme-bearing ticks on the Cape has pushed tourists like Emily Lomax to learn a lot about the disease.
“It’s tick-borne, and there’s a ring usually that shows up,” she explains.
Lomax can list off symptoms and stages, but she and her friends don’t seem to take Lyme disease very seriously. The recent Mount Holyoke grads are all fresh off a hiking trail at Nickerson State Park.
When I ask Lomax’s friend, Sidney Snyder, what she should do to prevent Lyme, she pauses before saying, “Long pants and closed-toe shoes.”
Her friends begin to laugh as Snyder relents, “both of which I am not adorned with right now.”
Snyder says she knows people who have gotten Lyme. She just doesn’t think it’ll happen to her. But more ticks this year probably mean a higher risk of getting the disease.
When the Cape’s entomologist, Larry Dapsis, drags a white flag through some dry leaves, he picks up some cause for concern.
“Ooh, we have activity,” he says. “This is scary.”
Dapsis counts off seven deer ticks clinging to the flag after a 30-second swipe through dry leaves.
“So just think about taking a hike down a trail for an hour or two, how many ticks you would encounter — a lot,” he says.
Many of those ticks carry Lyme disease as well. On average, Dapsis says, over half of adult deer ticks and one-quarter of the younger, nymph-stage ticks, can infect people.
“So that’s better odds than the state lottery,” he says lightheartedly, before taking a more serious tone. “But [it is] an opportunity for a very bad day — in fact, an opportunity for something that one bite can potentially change your life.”
‘It’s A Whole Bone Exhaustion’
Lisa Freeman has lived on Cape Cod for decades. Freeman used to love spending time outdoors, but that changed when she got Lyme. She says she is too tired to hike and bike now.
“It’s a whole bone exhaustion,” she explains, pulling a well-worn fleece tight around her thin frame.
Freeman makes sure her family is diligent about protecting against Lyme. And she is concerned about tourists who are not.
“I really don’t think that when people come from other areas they’re aware that it’s a problem,” she says.
Having been a victim of Lyme for decades, Freeman insists it means that her 14-year-old daughter, Marissa, takes every effort to ward off ticks — and that means using lots of bug spray.
“Whenever we’d go out, you’d always smell like bug spray and you’d hate it,” Marissa says. “And then when you’d come in you’d have to take a shower no matter what.”
For Freeman’s family, checking for ticks is as routine as brushing their teeth.
Back at Nickerson State Park, Snyder and her friends start to think more seriously about preventing Lyme. Talking about all of the blood-thirsty critters crawling around makes them decide that a tick check might be worth the trouble after all.
“We’ll definitely take a look after today,” Snyder says.