Since my home was hard against a forest in which I was free to ramble, I knew to check myself and my clothes closely when I returned from my outings. The little biters were quick to hitch a ride and would burrow deep if they could.
If I found a tick on the move, I would catch it and unceremoniously send it to tick-heaven. Once, after reading Tom Sawyer, I brought a caught-tick to school for a “tick-running” like the one in which Tom and his friend Joe engaged. But instead of running, my tick sulled, so I smashed him.
Smashing ticks was particularly popular with kids who had outdoor dogs. Checking these pets, we would often find ticks that had been attached and blood-sucking long enough to have grown to the size of your fingernail. With little attention to hygiene, we would pull the tick off and throw it down and watch it burst. Entertainment came cheap back then.
If a tick attached itself to you, there were all sorts of theories as to how it could be removed without leaving the head behind — the head being rightly considered a source of infection. To get the whole tick you needed to convince the intruder to remove itself — turn loose, pull out and drop off.
Some advised putting fingernail polish on it so it would suffocate and let go. Those who tried this ended up with a colorful arthropod that served poorly as a fashion statement.
Others recommended covering it with petroleum jelly, but all you got was a slick tick.
Putting something hot on its tick-butt — an extinguished match — only added the danger of a burn to the bite because, get ready, ticks will not let go until they are finished eating and leaving them to suck until satisfied is not recommended.
What is recommended is getting tweezers and gently removing the intruder, placing it on a tissue and flushing that sucker. Do not touch because ticks carry nasty things.
Like Lyme disease.
Lyme disease was discovered in 1975, in Lyme, Conn., where a number of children were diagnosed with arthritic-like symptoms. In time, it was found that the origin was a tick, a little-bitty tick — the little ones are the most dangerous.
Pretty soon the word went out that folks in the Northeast, the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest had better be careful. They were in the danger zone.
Not in the South.
Not in Alabama.
But in the spring of 2007, an Alabama friend was bitten by a little-bitty tick and soon after began exhibiting symptoms that seemed to her to fit the Lyme disease model.
So she went to her doctor who told her it couldn’t be — “We don’t have Lyme disease in Alabama.”
The doctor was wrong. Subsequent testing revealed that the little-bitty tick had infected her and now she has it — complete with aching joints, burning skin and all the debilitating neurological symptoms that come with the disease. Antibiotics, a good husband, and a strong Christian faith help, but do not cure.
Recently, Gov. Robert Bentley signed a proclamation declaring May to be Lyme Disease Awareness Month. I know, I know, we get all sorts of proclamations setting aside this month and that month to honor everything from blueberries to baklava (OK, I made that up, but you get the point). However, folks, this is serious.
On May 18, the Alabama Lyme Disease Association will be holding meetings in Cullman, Birmingham and Montgomery to get people stirred up about the disease. Check out their Facebook page (Facebook.com/AlabamaLymeDisease). Google up Lyme disease — there is lots of information out there — and be aware of what we are facing.
When tornado season arrives, we all take precautions, go to meetings and learn what we can do to be safe.
Little-bitty ticks can be just as dangerous.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 20,000 to 30,000 cases of tick-borne diseases contracted annually, and that 90 percent go unreported.
No one should have to go through what my friend and her family are going through. If you can’t make one of the meetings, do a little research and know that when a bulls-eye rash develops around a tick bite, you need to seek medical help — fast.
I doubt if there are any doctors today who will tell you that “we don’t have Lyme disease in Alabama.” We do and they know it.
They also know how important early diagnosis is, for once the disease is fully established, treatment is difficult.
So, let this be a warning. Be aware and be careful. There is nothing little about the bite of a little-bitty tick.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.