Did the US try to weaponize ticks?

The US House passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that orders the Inspector General of the Department of Defense to "conduct a review of whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975." The amendment was spearheaded by New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith. From CBS News:

The theory, which sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel, contends that bioweapon specialists packed ticks with pathogens that could cause severe disabilities, disease and death among potential enemies to the homeland. Smith said he was inspired to add the amendment to the annual defense bill by "a number of books and articles suggesting that significant research had been done at U.S. government facilities including Fort Detrick, Maryland and Plum Island, New York to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons."

Those books, however, have been questioned by some experts who dismiss long-held conspiracy theories that the federal government aided the spread of tick-borne diseases, and federal agencies, including the CDC, may have participated in a cover-up of sorts to conceal findings about the spread of Lyme disease.

Here's the amendment.

image: "Chelicera of the sheep tick" by Richard Bartz (CC) Read the rest

Life with chronic Lyme disease ("post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome") sucks

Karl Bode is a respected and talented tech journalist, but he labors under a tremendous burden: for nearly a decade he has struggled with "post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome" -- colloquially known as "chronic Lyme disease" -- enduring the twin struggles of a largely untreatable debilitating illness and skeptical dismissals from much of the medical establishment. Read the rest

New tick menace has the potential to spread terrifying viruses

Thanks to climate change, folks living in regions that were once tick-free zones have had to begin getting used to the blood-thirsty little bastards. Just as these unfortunate souls were getting used to this new reality, it seems that the bugs, which up until now have been happy working solo, are ganging up for all new levels of blood-draining terror.

According to Ars Technica, a species of tick that’s been a massive pain in the ass in Asia has made its way to North America. Currently doing its thing on the United States' eastern seaboard, the Asian Longhorned Tick travels in swarms and has the potential to spread all sorts of ugly diseases to livestock, pets and humans alike.

From Ars Technica:

Key to the tick’s explosive spread and bloody blitzes is that its invasive populations tend to reproduce asexually, that is, without mating. Females drop up to 2,000 eggs over the course of two or three weeks, quickly giving rise to a ravenous army of clones. In one US population studied so far, experts encountered a massive swarm of the ticks in a single paddock, totaling well into the thousands. They speculated that the population might have a ratio of about one male to 400 females.

Most troubling is the fact that the Asian Longhorned Tick is known to carry a recently discovered virus that causes SFTS: severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome. Those that contract SFTS can expect a wide range of terrifying symptoms including “fever, vomiting, hemorrhaging, and organ failure.” With a mortality rate of up to 30%, it’s definitely nothing to scoff at. Read the rest

Can you spot the ticks in this poppy seed muffin?

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention tweeted this image with the question: "Can you spot all 5 ticks in this photo?" Of course ticks generally don't hang out in pastries. The point was just to show how difficult it can be to spot ticks. But apparently the thought (and image) of a tick-infested muffin grossed out many Twitter users. The CDC apologized with, of course, a pun about ticking people off.

Anyway, here is the CDC's guide to "Avoiding Ticks."

Read the rest

Why you can't flick a tick

Why can't you flick a tick off you or your pet's skin? The answer is in the tick's mouth that's covered with hooks evolved so the tick can hang on for a several day feast of delicious blood. From KQED's Deep Look:

...A tick digs in using two sets of hooks. Each set looks like a hand with three hooked fingers. The hooks dig in and wriggle into the skin. Then these “hands” bend in unison to perform approximately half-a-dozen breaststrokes that pull skin out of the way so the tick can push in a long stubby part called the hypostome.

“It’s almost like swimming into the skin,” said Dania Richter, a biologist at the Technische Universität Braunschweig in Germany, who has studied the mechanism closely. “By bending the hooks it’s engaging the skin. It’s pulling the skin when it retracts.”

Read the rest

This tool cleanly removes ticks from my dogs

Seems we always have tick season at Muir Beach. This Tick Twister yanks them without leaving bits behind!

Ticks carry all sorts of diseases, and in wet wooded environments, we get a lot of them. A LOT. I feed my dogs an ingested tick killer, but my Great Pyrenees Nemo is so large we have a hard time getting a dosage that lasts. Sometimes I find ticks on his face, clearly upsetting the guy who plays the Sundance Kid to my Butch Cassidy! Intolerable!

Tweezers tend to destroy our local ticks and leave bits in the wound, not so with the Tick Twister!

If you have a dog, or an outdoor cat, its a good idea to have a set of these around.

Tick Twister Tick Remover Set with Small and Large Tick Twister via Amazon Read the rest

Brace yourselves, tick season is coming

At Outside magazine, Carl Zimmer has a great long read on why the tick population in the United States is increasing — and why scientists are having so much trouble controlling both ticks, and the diseases they spread. Read the rest