West Tisbury woman’s creepy tick encounter

Lone Star tick numbers are increasing on Martha’s Vineyard, and she can vouch for it.

The tiny dots on the lint roller are individual Lone Star ticks. — Rich Saltzberg

“They were everywhere. There were a bunch around my ankles, and then they had gone up my pants, and all the way up my back,” said Kristen Fauteux of West Tisbury. On August 28, Ms. Fauteux, director of stewardship at Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, found about 100 Lone Star larvae scattered all over her body after a meeting at Moshup Trail Preserve. The population of Lone Star ticks has increased significantly in recent years, and could pose challenges to anyone participating in outdoor activities.

Lone Star ticks are not native to Martha’s Vineyard, although they have been here for several decades. The ticks have been brought to the Island by migratory birds, and in recent years, have increased the size of their population significantly. “It used to be a big deal if I found one or two on a property, but now, in Aquinnah, it’s not unusual to find five or 10 at a time,” said Dick Johnson, a Vineyard Vision fellow who conducts tick surveys on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard boards of health.

While the Vineyard is familiar with ticks, the Lone Star tick presents different hazards than other common ticks found on Martha’s Vineyard, such as the deer tick. “I’ve walked into a deer tick nest before, and it wasn’t a big deal. I just used a lint roller and got them off of my clothing. But this was different. By the time I saw them they had already bitten me,” said Ms. Fauteux.

The Lone Star tick is much more aggressive than the deer tick. “I call them the cheetahs of the tick world. They move very fast,” said Mr. Johnson. “Deer ticks go looking for a nice, moist, hidden place, but Lone Star ticks just bite. We’re used to having some time to get these off, but not with Lone Star ticks.”

The larvae, smaller than a millimeter in size, hatch and wait for a food source to come along. Lone Star nests, consisting of 2,000 to 3,000 ticks, are similar in size to a blueberry and difficult to see, said Mr. Johnson. Once hatched, the larvae remain together in a cluster, unlike deer ticks, which tend to spread out. When they have found a food source, they will latch on, feast, and then drop off to molt their shells and reemerge as nymphs.

The Lone Star bites can be quite harmful, leading to severe itching, allergic reactions to red meat, and diseases such as spotted fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis. The larvae, however, generally do not transmit diseases, as they have not come in contact with animals that carry them, said Mr. Johnson. Removing the Lone Star ticks, due to their small size, is fairly easy, and can be done using packing tape, a lint roller, or duct tape. Yet by the time they are removed, it is likely that the damage has been done.

Red welts appeared around each spot the ticks were removed from. The bites are similar to a poison ivy rash and itch. — Kristen Fauteux

“For the first four days I could barely sleep because of the itching,” said Ms. Fauteux. “You end up with welts that are almost like poison ivy. They are filled with pus and blistery.”

The cause of this reaction is the type of saliva the Lone Star ticks carry, said Mr. Johnson. Lone Star ticks, as all other ticks, have an anticoagulant and cement-like substance in their saliva. This keeps blood flowing to the source of the bite and makes it harder for them to be removed.

Epicenters for Lone Star ticks are Chappaquiddick and Aquinnah, although Mr. Johnson has seen them in every town except Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs: “They just seem to be everywhere; they’re generalists.” Due to the aggressive nature of these ticks, serious preparation should be done before entering areas where these ticks may be found. “I’m a huge believer in treating your clothing with permethrin,” said Mr. Johnson.

Permethrin, an insecticide and medication for lice, can be used as a repellent for a variety of ticks. Clothes treated with permethrin will repel adult ticks, and stun larvae, preventing them from biting. Insect repellent with 25 percent DEET will work as well to protect areas with exposed skin. “It changes the way I have to prepare myself for going out into habitats like that … Anyone who is going out not on a trail, I would make sure you are wearing something that has been treated,” said Ms. Fauteux.