Newsflash: UMass Will Test Your Ticks for Lyme, Other Diseases

Using state funding, the University of Massachusetts Amherst plans to help state residents test ticks they’ve found at a reduced rate.

Since 2006, the school’s Laboratory of Medical Zoology (LMZ) has tested ticks from all 50 states for various transmittable illnesses and pathogens. Anyone concerned they’ve been bitten can mail the parasite in question to the UMass lab, have it tested, and get the results back within three business days.

Normal pricing ranges from $50 for a baseline DNA analysis of one tick to a $200 comprehensive package, which includes screening for 23 tick-borne illnesses. But, thanks to the state Department of Public Health’s $100,000 grant, the LMZ will do the testing for just $15 per critter.

That rate won’t last, though.

“We anticipate that this program will be over by early to mid-July. The subsidy is really going to go fast,” said Stephen Rich, a professor of microbiology and LMZ director, in a statement.

Are ticks getting more dangerous?

The grant comes on the heels of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. From 2004 through 2016, researchers reported a 300-percent uptick in mosquito, tick, and flea bite-related illnesses. The analysis found the number of reported tick-borne diseases doubled during that 13-year period. That figure also makes up more than 60 percent of all mosquito-, tick-, and flea-related illnesses.

Since the UMass laboratory launched its TickReport testing program and database, researchers have analyzed more than 37,000 ticks, including over 12,400 in 2017. The LMZ expects to test between 18,000 and 20,000 for 2018.

Of the 23 diseases tested, Lyme disease comes out on top. Since 2006, 26.5 percent of all ticks screened have tested positive. The illness, spread by blacklegged ticks, causes someone to experience a combination of fever, headaches, fatigue, and a skin rash. If left untreated, it eventually spreads to the joints, heart, and nervous system.

More than just Lyme

But, Lyme disease is just one condition spread to humans. The LMZ also tests for anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and the lesser-known Powassan virus. Out of these four, Powassan is particularly rare. In fact, the CDC has recorded about 100 cases over the past 10 years. Yet, the disease may cause a combination of fever, vomiting, confusion, seizures, and memory loss, and may even lead to long-term neurologic problems.

Meanwhile, the LMZ plans to use half of the grant to cover the cost of Powassan virus testing on the first 1,000 ticks sent.

Of course, it’s important to note: Not all ticks transmit diseases. The type, time of year it’s found, and region all influence whether one poses a health risk.

As for the blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) commonly found in the Northeast, the CDC says they typically need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours or longer before spreading Lyme disease. With this in mind, always thoroughly check your skin and clothing after outings in the woods.

What if you find a tick on your body? The LMZ advises removing it with a pair of tweezers, and washing the area with soap or antiseptic wipes. Then, mail the tick to the lab in a Ziploc bag.


Newsflash: New York State Wants to Get More Families Camping

Trying a new outdoor activity for the first time can be an exciting and potentially life-changing experience. It can also be intimidating, especially with camping. Typically, it requires a couple days’ commitment, sleeping someplace other than your bed, and using possibly unfamiliar gear. To counter that, New York State started its First-Time Camper program in 2017. Created through a partnership between the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the program helps out families who have never before slept under the stars.

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The program gives participants everything needed for an authentic camping experience, eliminating the need to invest in any equipment upfront. Families receive a tent, sleeping bags and pads, chairs, a lantern, and even firewood. As a bonus, they can keep it all, so they can continue camping on their own.

The program also sets participants up with a Camping Ambassador. With environmental education backgrounds, they are members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps and are on-site to help set up camp and answer questions. Each adventure takes place over two nights, and during, the experts assist with various activities, including paddling, fishing, birdwatching, and hiking.

“I can’t begin to explain the incredible experience my family had.”

The program will run seven weekends during July and August at 13 camping locations spread across the state. This allows more families to participate. Potential campers can submit an application from May 10 through May 13 and may specify their campground and date preferences. The organizations will then select 65 families at random. In total, each of the 13 participating campgrounds will host five families.

Ideally, the First-Time Camper program will reach underserved populations, including those who can’t financially risk “buying before trying” or have little exposure to a wilderness environment. The experience then offers the opportunity to form life-long memories in a nurturing atmosphere. Campers surveyed from the 2017 program indicated they were “very satisfied,” and 90 percent stated that they are “extremely likely to go camping again.”

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

“I can’t begin to explain the incredible experience my family had,” said one camper. “Our camp ambassadors were awesome—so friendly, so smart, and so patient with sharing all of their knowledge. We learned so much. We are so excited to be able to start going as a family and explore the parks and experience all that we can.”


Newsflash: Maine Gov Agrees to Allow Signs to Katahdin Woods and Waters

Getting to Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is about to get a little easier.

Following a year-and-a-half delay, the state says it plans to install road signs directing visitors to the 87,000-square-acre area in the northern part of the state.

It’s an about face for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who previously opposed installing roadway signs for the monument while the U.S. Department of the Interior conducted a review 27 national monuments at the behest of President Donald Trump. LePage has strongly opposed the creation of the monument and lobbied for it’s reversal.

But months after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has signed off on keeping Katahdin Woods and Rivers unaltered, LePage has given in and is allowing the signs. A spokeswoman for LePage told Maine Public the state Department of Transportation is now working with the National Park Service to “expedite the production and installation of signs” and says they could be appear on roadways by summer.

It’s good news for business advocates who say the absence of road signs directing visitors to the monument has slowed the flow of tourists to the area.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in having missed the turnoff to go up to the monument on Route 11 because there is no signage,” Wendy Sairio, director of the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, told Maine Public. “And there’s no signage on the highway off of I-95, for exit 244 or 264, either one of which will take you to the loop road of the monument.”

Last year, a team of Maine-born photographers and filmmakers journeyed to the new monument to complete a 5-day 64-mile circumnavigation of the park, documenting it for the film, Monumental:

In a March 28 letter to the state DOT commissioner, Superintendent of Katahdin Woods and Waters Tim Hudson requested that six signs for the monument be placed on Interstate 95, as well as 11 more on state roads in Medway, Sherman, Patten, and Island Falls. It was the second request Hudson made for road signs.

A spokesman for the DOT told Portland news station ABC 8 the agency is still working to determine where the signs will be placed and that no official timetable has been given.

While national parks must be created by Congress, a national monument can be established by presidential proclamation, as was the case in August 2016 when former President Barack Obama authorized the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters. Located in Penobscot County just east of Baxter State Park, the monument was established with the help of Roxanne Quimby, a cofounder of Burt’s Bees. Quimby donated an estimated $60 million worth land for the creation of Katahdin Woods and Waters.

With views of the state’s tallest peak, Mount Katahdin, and a myriad of recreation opportunities, the monument welcomed some 30,000 visitors during its first year of operation. That number could now increase with the added visibility that road signs with provide.

 


Newsflash: Adirondack Peaks To See Temporary Trailheads for Columbus Day Weekend

In an effort to keep hikers safe in the face of increased traffic for Columbus Day Weekend, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will be closing a section of Route 73 to parking that includes the trailheads for Cascade and Porter Mountains, and Pitchoff Mountain. Hikers for all three peaks will be able to park at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex and use new trail connections to reach existing trails.

Beginning at dusk on Thursday, October 5 and stretching through dusk on Monday, October 9, pull-offs along State Route 73  west of the Cascade Lakes and east of the entrance to Mount Van Hovenburg will be closed, blocked off and patrolled by New York State Troopers.

Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Courtesy: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Hikers planning to climb the summit of Cascade and/or Porter Mountains:

Hikers should park in parking lots at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex at no cost. Volunteer stewards will direct hikers to a 2.0-mile marked route on the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. The route links to a newly constructed 0.4-mile connector trail between the ski trail and the Cascade Mountain Trail. The connector trail joins the Cascade Mountain Trail approximately 0.6 mile from the current trailhead. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Cascade Mountain will be 8.6 miles long—3.8 miles longer than the regular route from the Route 73 trailhead.

Hikers seeking to climb the summit of Pitchoff Mountain:

Hikers will also park at the Sports Complex and take the same route across the complex’s cross-country ski trail system. After 1.7 miles, the route to Pitchoff Mountain leaves the ski trail and traverses 0.3 miles across a private driveway to State Route 73. Hikers will then walk 0.15 miles and cross State Route 73 to the current trailhead for the Pitchoff Mountain Trail. A roundtrip hike to the summit of Pitchoff Mountain will be 8.4 miles long—4.4 miles longer than the regular route.

The current trailheads on Route 73 straddle a sharp narrow turn that has been known to be dangerous. “The Cascade Mountain trailhead is presently a parking hazard and nightmare,” said North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi. “I’m pleased DEC is taking action to address this public safety need by relocating the trailhead.” The relatively short hike and high reward, particularly of Cascade Mountain, combine to make it a very popular hike and the small pullout quickly reaches capacity during busy weekends.

The trailhead at Mount Van Hovenburg will feature bathrooms and food or drink concession. The DEC notes than hikers not interested in the increased length of these hikes should look for shorter options outside of the High Peaks Wilderness.