Some Cape Residents Worry Tourists Aren’t Taking Precautions To Prevent Lyme

Larry Dapsis, the county entomologist for Cape Cod, drags a white flag through leaf litter at Nickerson State Park. The ticks he picks up will be tested to see how many carry Lyme. (Beenish Ahmed for WBUR)

Larry Dapsis, the county entomologist for Cape Cod, drags a white flag through leaf litter at Nickerson State Park. The ticks he picks up will be tested to see how many carry Lyme. (Beenish Ahmed for WBUR)

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.

They’re Everywhere

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.

Dapsis counts off the ticks he collected -- seven -- during a 30-second drag through leaf litter at Nickerson State Park. (Beenish Ahmed for WBUR)

Dapsis counts off the ticks he collected — seven — during a 30-second drag through leaf litter at Nickerson State Park. (Beenish Ahmed for WBUR)

“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.

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  • Frank Toppa

    Lyme Disease has devastated our family life, our careers, and our friendships. For the past five years I have been astounded by the apathy of those who have had no direct encounter with the disease. Frank Toppa

  • Alexander Davis

    Of course tourists don’t take precautions. This disease has been played down so as not to adversely affect the tourist trade, real estate values, and the economy in general.  If people were aware of the possible devastating consequences of this disease and that most victims never see the tick or the rash, no one would want to visit the endemic areas, much less live there.     

  • Shannon

    It is very sad that the last report of this series will come from an infectious disease doctor who still dances around Chronic Lyme.  While there still may be medical debate over Chronic Lyme, the hundreds of thousands of people living with it are not debating at all – they are just trying to get well.  A much more useful dialog would be a discussion between this doctor and a Lyme literate doctor like Joseph Burrascano.  People need information not rhetoric and we are much too sick for any more politics.

  • Lymeticktest

    I own and operate MassDeerService, Inc. We are now distributing the first at-home test kits for determing if the tick that just bit you is carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme. Please visit http://www.lymeticktest for more info.

  • Batikquilt

    We don’t know where our kids were infected with Lyme, bartonella, and babesia, but taking an educated guess, we’d say it happened while vacationing on Cape Cod.   Experiencing flu-like symptoms while on vacation there, hiking in Nickerson State Park, riding bikes through the woods, walking through thigh-high grass to get to the beach.  You name it, we did it and we did it in ignorance.  We have very fond memories of the Cape, but no one in my family wants to go back there.  Please, the tourist industry of Cape Cod:  warn future vacationers to be tick aware.  Post signs on trails.  Hand out leaflets to the people renting and staying in motels. 

  • pon zypon

    Wow, wish i’ve read this before paying for my reservation on nickerson state park. I have 4 families with me with kids (1y/o to 8 ) camping this year. Does anyone know if this issue is still a concern esp. on camp 6, 6x, 7? Thats where we will be staying @ the park. thanks in advance. Otherwise, I’m afraid I am going to cancel all our reservations. thanks a lot.

    • Ftoppa

      pon zypon
      I would encourage you to keep your reservation at Nickerson. You can read my Lyme story. However, my goal is to reclaim my former love of Nature. Whenever I can, I am in the woods, but with proper precautions. Whether at Nickerson or anywhere else, one should watch out for Ticks. They can be anywhere. Enjoy the camping, but always be vigilant. Hope this helps.

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