By Ellen Frankman
As local governments continue to deliberate over the proper measures for tick and deer population control, some residents are encouraging their neighbors to take matters of tick-borne illness prevention into their own hands.
On Saturday, August 31, North Haven residents Jen Brown and Josephine DeVincenzi will offer a Tick-Borne Prevention Presentation at the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market. Brown and DeVincenzi have both come to the issue as individuals who have experienced the devastating effects of suffering a tick-borne illness.
“I’m probably someone who got Lyme disease 15 years ago,” said Brown, who used to be an avid gardener, fearless of the woods and brush, before she contracted Lyme. “The warning signs were always around, but I didn’t understand the implications at that time.”
Brown says that the first couple of years of dealing with the illness were difficult. Advice from doctors was often inconclusive, contradictory or at the very worst, misleading. So Brown began a process of self-education by attending seminars and reading the literature and latest medical studies in order to understand the disease and its symptoms. It’s this personal knowledge of natural options for tick prevention that she hopes to share with the community.
“I used to hang the clothes on the clothes line and come in and brush off three ticks and I didn’t have any idea the risk that I was putting myself or my child in,” said Brown. “Now we’ve figured out a way to stay safe for our family.”
“At least for the time being, the vast majority of the responsibility is falling on individuals,” agreed DeVincenzi.
At Saturday’s presentation the two will present BLAST, a Lyme disease prevention program spearheaded by the Ridgefield, Connecticut municipality, which views awareness as the most effective tick-borne illness prevention practice. B stands for bathing after spending time outdoors, L reminds individuals to look their bodies over for ticks daily, A encourages individuals to apply repellents, S stands for spraying during the year to reduce tick abundance, and T reminds folks to treat their pets.
“This is curriculum that people need to keep in the forefront of their minds,” said DeVincenzi. “Vigilance is first and foremost. If you haven’t already thought about those elements of protection, then you need to start doing that every day.”
Research has proven that bathing within two hours of being outdoors can drastically reduce the risk of acquiring a tick-bite or tick-borne illness. But Brown recognizes that this can be a difficult habit to adopt.
“I think the bathing and looking is what a lot of people find is sort of wearisome,” said Brown. “It is kind of a downer to keep looking all the time, especially if you have kids where you have to keep checking them and checking yourself.”
But catching a bite early is critical to prevent disease, as in most cases the tick must be attached for 36 hours or longer before the bacteria can be transmitted.
Brown and DeVincenzi will also present a host of proactive options for individuals who want to continue to enjoy the outdoors, but are committed to lessening the risk.
“My family finds the cedar oil to be very effective,” said Brown. The oil is an organic proprietary blend of cedar oils that kills adult ticks and their eggs on contact and repels them with its scent. “It comes in a spray bottle, and everyone in the family sprays it on every day, multiple times a day.”
The Browns even apply it on their terrier.
Ticks are also repelled by the scent of lavender, so Brown incorporates lavender-scented laundry detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets into her daily routine.
“I try not to focus on things I can’t do,” said Brown. “If I wanted to go hike somewhere I would find a way to rustle up some permethrin and put it on my clothes.” Otherwise, Brown prefers to seek natural alternatives that leave a chemical residue and perhaps negative side effects.
“Dr. Brommers makes a lavender soap, Fairy Tales makes a rosemary repel hair spray, and even minty Listerine can help,” said Brown.
DeVincenzi also opts for organic solutions, particularly when she walks her dogs. She also chooses to walk them in safe zones, in the village or in fenced in areas.
“I think first and foremost the most important preventative measure is avoiding tick prone areas,” said DeVincenzi.
Brown has created a safe zone for her family in her own yard. A three-foot border of cedar chips surrounds places in the yard where the family likes to be together to hang out and play. Those chips are then sprayed with cedar oil, creating a barrier that ticks won’t cross. Brown also plants lavender and catmint to further repel the pests. Brown has also eliminated low-lying plantings and brush from her yard.
“For homeowners the biggest thing you can do to improve was to pull out all low growing ground cover,” said Brown, who removed the ivy and pachysandra in her yard. “Now our trees and bushes grow up.”
“That overgrown forsythia bush is now the poster for what not to have because you are making a great home for small mammals near your house that may carry ticks,” added Brown. “You can’t have any weedy overgrown base on the ground if you want to really be safe.”
DeVincenzi keeps her grass cut short and makes sure to stay on top of picking up leaf litter, a practice Brown wishes the town would be more vigilant about. Leaf and debris clean up minimizes the number of ticks that are in close proximity to people walking, and also eliminates homes for small mammals that carry the insects.
“I would also like to see the government provide a tick-borne illness task force, whether it is Sag Harbor or North Haven village,” said Brown. “That would be a long term prospect that would be looking at the problem ongoing, not just using four-poster, eradicating deer, and then be done with the problem.”
But both DeVincenzi and Brown emphasized that individuals are their own advocates and their own protectors when it comes to tick-borne illness. Personal precautions can go a long way.
“People have to share this information because it could be any one tick on that one time that you don’t apply protection or use safe practices that makes a person sick,” said Brown. “This is a lifestyle change.”
Tick-Borne Prevention, a presentation by Josephine DeVincenzi and Jen Brown, will be held this Saturday, August 31 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market on Bay Street.