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Snow is a welcome guest to the North Country

November 13, 2010
By Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

I know many people will take umbrage with the mere mention of such an obvious observation, but it sure is nice to have snow on the ground again.

Although autumn is by far my favorite season, its majesty departs with the leaves, bare trees and the ever-diminishing daylight. The arrival of snow freshens the landscape and serves to enliven and enlighten an otherwise dreary scene.

There is no doubt in my mind that fresh snow enhances the outdoor experience and offers a variety of options and activities during a timeframe that would otherwise be dark and dreary.

The white stuff is a boon for deer hunters, as well as bird hunters. It is also a substance welcomed by skiers, sliders and 'shoers. By tourism's reckoning, it is the equivalent of white gold.

Despite the boom and bust cycles of freeze and thaw that have been common in the age of climate change, snow still powers the North Country's economy.

In the lumbering era, snow provided the means for sleds to haul logs from the woods. As snowmelt swelled the region's rivers, it helped deliver the logs to mill and powered the saws that milled the timber.

In current times, snow continues to define our regional culture. It is still the Great White North, even when the snow doesn't stick.

I don't care to shovel it or drive through it, but there is no denying the fact that it is nice to have it back around. Snow in the Adirondacks is as inevitable as the sunrise, so we might as well learn to enjoy it.

For nearly a month, diehard skiers have been getting their regular dose of the white stuff along Whiteface Toll Road. Before too long, the snowpack will meander down to the lower reaches where everyone can enjoy it.

Ticked off ... again

Well, it has happened again. I shed my hunting clothes and I felt something crawling across my chest. I tore off the shirt and there it was: a tiny black tick.

Fortunately, it wasn't attached and I quickly plucked it off to examine. In the dim lantern light of camp, I inspected it. It was still quite small, which was a good sign. If it had been engorged and swollen with my blood, I would have been worried.

Even so, I was concerned and ticked off! It was the second time in three years that I had found a tick on my person during the hunting season. I was shaken by the possibility of contracting a potentially debilitating disease in my own backyard. This was real danger, since Lyme disease is caused by the bite of an infected deer tick.

In a sense, I dodged the bullet twice, yet I'm sure a third strike is inevitable. Lyme disease was not even given a proper medical term until the early 1980s, but since its discovery, most cases of have been cured through the use of antibiotics.

However, there is a small but growing percentage of patients with the disease, who continue to have symptoms lasting months to years after the antibiotic treatment.

Lyme disease is a complex bacterial infection, known as "The Great Imitator." Black-legged ticks are it's primary carrier. The disease can offer symptoms that mimic many other diseases, including fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Patients have a variety of different reactions to the infection. Some experience fatigue, headaches, irritability, anxiety, crying, sleep disturbance, poor memory and concentration, chest pain, palpitations, lightheadedness, joint pain, numbness and tingling.

Some people suffering from undiagnosed Lyme disease are believed to be suffering mental illness. Often symptoms don't conform to the traditional models of what Lyme disease is supposed to look like, making diagnosis difficult and treatments unreliable.

Many local physicians are not well-informed about the disease or its treatment because, according to Warren County public health educator Dan Durkee, "They haven't seen enough of it."

Considered one of the most controversial illnesses in the history of medicine, Lyme disease may be the fastest growing infectious disease in the United States.

Currently, the only effective treatment for Lyme disease is a two-week regimen of antibiotics. However, there are still no reliable tests to determine if someone has actually contracted Lyme disease, nor are there any tests to insure that a patient is actually cured of it.

When treated according to the existing guidelines, nearly half of all Lyme patients have been shown to have relapses of the disabling symptoms.

For over 20 years, Lyme was considered a common affliction that was limited to the southern portions of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Experts estimate that up to 50 percent of ticks in Lyme-endemic areas are infected with Lyme.

However, since 1986, when it was first reported in New York, Lyme disease has increased its geographic range from Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley to as far north as Clinton County and as far west as Onondaga and Tompkins counties, with over 72,000 confirmed cases.

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted more tick infections in people living in upstate New York than anywhere else in the country.

Tick surveys reveal increased numbers of deer ticks in the southern Adirondacks and Central and Western portions of the state, where relatively few deer ticks had previously been discovered.

Currently, nearly 24 percent of all new cases reported annually to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are from New York. Over the past three years, the state has documented a 15 percent increase in new cases annually.

Ticks mate in the fall, and must survive the winter to lay their eggs in early spring. It appears that winter survival is getting easier every year. The tiny arthropods don't hibernate, and a 40-degree day may bring them out. My most recent tick was discovered after a 20-degree day.

Projections estimate that as the climate continues to warm and our winters grow shorter, ticks are going to continue their expansion. The warmer winters will also allow the rodents that carry ticks to proliferate, especially in environments that lack the predators to keep both deer and mice in check.

According to medical entomologist Dennis White, Director of the Arthropod-Borne Disease Program of the New York State Department of Health, "Ticks are feeding on white-footed mice all the way to the top of Clinton County, and where that happens, Lyme disease can be expected to follow."

Ticks can be transported on mice, deer, birds, squirrels and chipmunks, and even on cats and dogs, woodchuck, coyote and fox. Ticks are most active when the temperature is above freezing, usually from April through November, although they can reappear after a freeze or during a thaw.

Increasingly, Lyme disease is showing up in the Adirondacks. In 2008, there were 22 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Essex County, while only four cases were reported in Franklin and six in Clinton County.

There is now an Adirondack Lyme Disease Foundation that meets monthly at the Saratoga Springs Public Library. Visit their website at www.adirondacklymediseasefoundation.com/links.html.

All outdoor travelers should take such simple precautions as tucking their pant legs into their socks and wearing light-colored clothing. Hunters should be especially cautious since, as a rule, they are often in contact with the ground while sitting on watch or dressing out a deer. The use of tree stands may actually help prevent ticks, since they get hunters up off the ground.

Fortunately, long johns may actually be a deterrent, as a tight layer next to the skin can help prevent bites. But, it is still a wise idea to take the time to inspect for ticks after a day in the field, before the poppyseed-sized bug grows to the size of a raisin. Removing a tick within 36 hours after it begins feeding greatly reduces the risk of infection.

 
 

 

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