Drawing a bead on bugs

I admit to having a minor phobia about blood-sucking insects and arachnids. I empathize with volunteers enlisted to drag sheets through fields to gather specimens in the pursuit of scientific research.

As kids, my friends and I used to push our bikes across a dewy meadow at dusk and sneak into adjacent woods to watch drive-in movies through binoculars.

It wasn’t long until we became aware that we were covered with so many wood ticks — dozens, a hundred maybe — that we named the meadow “Tick Field.”

Back then we cared little about the disease-carrying potential of these nuisances. Not so today, when mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses are of increasing concern to those who spend time outdoors.

A study is underway in western Wisconsin, funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Joe Knight writes in the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that the study aims to document seasonal variations in ticks and to ascertain the percentage that carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

Since May, Health Department staff members and student volunteers have been conducting “tick drags” once per week at the two county parks, alternating parks each week. The process involves dragging a weighted 4-foot-by-4-foot piece of cloth through tall grass. Ticks that cling to the cloth are collected and plopped into containers of alcohol.

Preliminary results show that about one-fourth of the deer ticks collected early this season contained the bacteria. A microbiologist with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department calls that proportion “incredibly high.”

Furthermore, Knight reports:

Health officials are working on two apparently new species of bacteria, yet unnamed, that are carried by deer ticks and have caused diseases in small numbers of people in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Meanwhile, out west, our colleagues at Southern California Public Radio report that the authorities are getting tougher on property owners who neglect their pools.

In years past, [Orange County’s] vector control — the agency responsible for keeping the county safe from infectious mosquitoes — has taken to chucking insect-eating fish into neglected pools that they couldn’t get access to, usually from a neighbor’s backyard.

This year, it’s added a new approach to its arsenal: warrants.

An attorney for the district tells KPCC that the county has sought two such warrants from a judge. The warrants grant them access to a list of neglected pools in the area.

I wonder what happens to the fish.