Mosquitoes and tick-related diseases are on the rise. It’s gotten so bad in some parts of the country that some communities in urban areas have taken to widespread applications of insecticides to kill off the flying pests. While covering up and staying away from insect-prevalent areas may be the official advice from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), for homesteaders and farmers, it’s completely impractical. The CDC also advises the application of insecticide poisons and destroying tick habitat, the exact opposite of how we manage our organic growing fields and pastures at Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B. While not our strategy, we’ve met many homesteaders who have embraced having tick predators, like guinea fowl and chickens, around, allowing them to roam free to eat ticks.
Dealing with Lyme disease in the Upper Midwest, let alone other parts of the country, can be daunting, often perplexing the local health care system. My son most likely had Lyme disease off-and-on for over a decade before my wife Lisa Kivirist and I had to switch health care provider from The Monroe Clinic in Monroe, Wisconsin, to Lutheran Gundersen in Hillsboro and work with a doctor who was willing to examine the symptoms and listen to the patient and consider that we actually do live in an extremely dangerous area with respect to prevalence of the black legged ticks (deer ticks), the usual transmitter of the dreaded and debilitating Lyme disease and other tick-related infections after being bit. Our doctor at Gundersen was actually willing to make a clinical diagnosis of my son’s infection. As it turns out, the official blood tests for Lyme are extremely unreliable, offering both false negatives and positives. In the case of my son, the blood test did, eventually, come back positive, confirming the clinical diagnosis.
The typical dose of 14-days of the antibiotic Doxycycline to treat for Lyme may -- or may not -- always completely knock out the stealthy bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi or other problematic bacteria carried by ticks. I’m still managing what I can only ascertain as chronic Lyme disease or another tick-related disease. When I start asking around, I’m hardly alone. The litany of symptoms, which often can change and be seasonal, are tormenting. From aching feet to headaches, sudden shoulder or elbow pain to irritable bowel syndrome, the list goes on and on, related to what some people experience. According to the CDC’s website: “Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.” The only symptom my son had was a swollen right knee. Turns out that Lyme can mess with Lymph glands and get into joints, making them swell up.
Protection Against Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
We live out in the country, like many homesteaders. There are woods, tall grasses, places where standing water collects and where deer run wild. What the CDC gets it wrong, I think, is that covering up is an effective strategy against ticks. I’ve found the ticks merely hitch a ride on a pant leg inside our home or crawl up under clothing. While more research is needed, another huge problem may be that climate change has made ticks’ winter survival more successful. Their populations have mushroomed and their range has spread rapidly across the US.
To project against ticks, we’ve focused on insect repellents. Like many families, my family tries to stay clear of the toxic DEET-based repellents, that while effective, have adverse effects. We’ve found most of the natural products to be only modestly effective -- but we’re still searching and trying these.
However, we discovered Proven insect repellents, which are available in sprays and lotions, depending on the use. According to Proven, their repellents have been tested to effectively repel mosquitos, ticks, black flies, biting flies, stable flies, ants, gnats, chiggers, sand flies and no-see-ums. In other words, Proven sprays and lotions can protect from insect species carrying Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease, Powassan Virus and tick-borne Encephalitis. Proven repellents are distributed by Sawyer Products.
We used Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion on our face and arms; it’s best for children or use to completely avoid any inhalation and want as much as 14 hours of protection. We regularly used the slightly fragrant Proven Insect Repellent spray on our legs and arms when it was hot and we worked outside all day in our shorts and t-shirt; this spray, however, should avoid contact with clothing.
Finally, we used Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray when we had to hit the woods for harvesting our firewood, since we could spray it on our boots, pants and long-sleeved shirt without harming our clothing. When using the Proven repellents, we’ve not discovered one tick on our body, nor on our clothes that we wore back into the house. We found the Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent spray can feel a little greasy, but it washes off easily in a shower. Compared to getting bit by a tick, this was a welcome trade off we happily took all season long. All repellents should avoid contact with eyes, so we ended up using it sparingly on our face since we usually break a sweat from farm work.
Proven and Sawyer products use a patented active ingredient of Saltidin (Picaridin), its molecular structure modeled after piperidine, a colorless organic compound found in the black pepper plant. While derived from natural and plant-based origins, it’s a manufactured ingredient, made in the US. Proven repellents will not melt or damage plastics like DEET might, making it a much better option when using it for camping or hiking.
“We understand that many people prefer all-natural products when available. However, if they aren’t effective, the tendency is to return to DEET,” said Emily Dix, Operations Manager at Proven. “In the current environment, when insect-borne illnesses are on the rise, we wanted to come to the table with a truly effective repellent that was still mindful of health.”
John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the sun. Both have been speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8 kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs.
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