Like many people in Columbia and Greene counties, I live in a little village, “cheek by jowl” with neighbors on all sides. Recently, a house on the block sold to new owners who are not particularly vigilant about lawn care. I am not quite sure whether they are participating in “No Mow May” or just simply have not figured out where to buy a mower yet, but in the couple months since they acquired the property, they are yet to mow their large corner lot. The result is a knee-high lawn that is adjacent to public walkways on three sides and a neighbor’s house and yard on the fourth. While their lawn is in stark contrast to the very tidy ones in our proud neighborhood, its appearance is not actually my concern. Instead, I am thinking about those great lovers of tall grass that residents of the Twin Counties know can pose a serious threat to the health of adults, children and pets: TICKS.
If you live in Columbia and Greene counties, then you likely already know that we have some of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the state. Between 2016 and 2018, Columbia County had a rate of Lyme of 593.8 cases/100,000 and Greene County 550.9 cases/100,000. Other tick-borne diseases are also prevalent in the Twin Counties. In 2018, both Columbia and Greene Counties had some of the highest rates in the state for Anaplasmosis (179 cases/100,000 in Columbia and 90.6 in Greene) and for Babesiosis (44.6 cases/100,000 in Columbia and 25.3 in Greene). In short, anyone living in the Twin Counties has a greater risk of infection from these tick-borne diseases than most other residents of NYS (which, as a whole, has some of the highest rates for these tick-borne diseases of any state in the country).
As many people with experience of these diseases will tell you, they are no fun. Even a relatively short-lived infection requires a healthcare interaction and a prescription medication, with the accompanying costs, and often, a number of accommodations for both symptoms of the disease and the medication taken to treat it. Then there seems to be that subset of people who struggle with serious, long-term infections that become, essentially, a chronic disease. For these poor people, the diagnosis of a tick-borne disease can be a life-altering event.
It is therefore much better to prevent these tick-borne diseases in the first place and landscaping to create a “Tick-Safe Zone” can actually be an important prevention tool. A Tick-Safe Zone is an area around the space where you, your loved ones, and your pets are most likely to live, work and play. Typically, its center is the home, and the Zone extends some distance from it; how big it is depends on where your habits take you and also on how much space you can reasonably maintain. To create a Tick-Free Zone, do the following: regularly clear tall grasses and brush around your home and at the edge of lawns; mow frequently and keep leaves raked (leaf litter and other plant debris are favorite stomping grounds for ticks); place patios, decks, play areas, and playground equipment away from shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation, and in sunny spots if possible (since ticks have trouble surviving in the sun); create a 3-ft barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around patios and play equipment to keep ticks from migrating into the places where people and pets are most likely to be; remove any old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
Property maintenance isnt the only strategy for preventing tick-borne diseases—carefully dressing in long socks, pants and sleeves, frequently using a repellent on skin and clothing, and making and thorough tick checks are all terribly important—but do not neglect the opportunity to limit your exposure to ticks, and that of the people and pets around you, by landscaping with prevention of tick-borne diseases in mind.
The Healthcare Consortium is a local charitable organization with a mission of improving access to healthcare and supporting the health and well-being of the residents in our rural community. The agency is located at 325 Columbia St., Hudson. For information, visit www.columbiahealthnet.org or call 518-822-8820.