A Cumberland resident has come up with a new product, the Tick Wrap, to help protect children and adults from tick bites. Children and older adults are particularly susceptible to the diseases ticks carry. Courtesy / Daniel Katz

PORTLAND — Faced with an expected bad year for ticks and after years of treating more and more patients with tick-borne illnesses, Wildwood Medicine owner Daniel Katz decided it was time to treat not just the symptoms, but the cause as well.

“We’ve seen an explosion in the last five to 10 years with the number of people coming in with tick-borne or suspected tick-borne illness,” said Katz, who, along with his wife Sasha Rose, started Wildwood Medicine on India Street in 2005 to offer naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, physical therapy, herbal formulas, phlebotomy and massage.

With May being Lyme Disease Awareness Month, the public is advised to carefully check themselves for ticks when coming in from outdoors. Courtesy/ Maine Cooperative extension Tick Lab

Earlier this month, Katz, a Cumberland resident, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $18,000 to fund 1,300 Tick Wraps, a lower leg covering he invented to repel ticks, including the kind that causes Lyme Disease. As of May 26,  75 donors have given $6,489. The hope, Katz said is to raise the full $18,000 by June 3, the deadline set by Kickstarter. If he doesn’t, he’ll pay for the  wraps himself and sell them online, at Wildwood and maybe retail shops.

This year is expected to be a bad year for ticks, according to Griffin Dill, an integrated pest management professional who manages the Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Lab in Orono.

“The 2020 tick season has gotten off to an early start. With frequent warm stretches during January and February, ticks were sporadically active throughout the winter and became particularly active during March,” Dill said. “Tick submissions to the lab have been much higher than last year, which may be a combined result of suitable weather for ticks and more people recreating outside due to Covid-19 restrictions.”

In 2019, the lab handled close to 2,700 tick samples between April 1 and Dec. 30, including 20 from Portland, 55% of which tested positive for a tick-borne disease. So far this year, the lab has tested 680 ticks, including 144 in Cumberland County, 14 in Sagadahoc County and 38 in York County. Of the Cumberland County data, seven ticks have come from Portland, six of which were carriers of disease.

In total, according to the Maine Tracking Network, an offshoot of the Maine Center for Disease Control’s Infectious Disease Program,  between Jan. 1 and May 24, there have been 149 new cases of Lyme Disease in the state, including 32 cases throughout Cumberland County,  five in Sagadahoc County and 18 in York County.

In 2001, the number of cases in Cumberland County was under 20, but by 2005, it had risen to close to 70. By 2009, there were close to 300 cases. There was a high of around 350 in 2014, and it has risen and fallen since then. In 2018, there were just under 300 Lyme Disease cases across the county.

“From the submissions that we have received, southern and coastal Maine, particularly the Midcoast region, seem to have high tick activity and relatively high rates of infection,” Dill said.

Dill said tick checks should be a part of an individual’s routine every time they go outdoors.

“Whether it is for a long hike or simply a walk to the mailbox, (people) should be thoroughly checking themselves for ticks,” he said.

When out where ticks may be found, people should use an EPA-approved repellent, wear light-colored clothing that cover arms and legs and tuck pants into socks, according to Robert Long, communications director at the Maine CDC.

Katz says his product also will protect people from tick bites.

Tick Wraps come in three sizes and are infused with permethtrin, a synthetic modeled after chrysanthemum oil, a naturally occurring insect repellent. Courtesy / Daniel Katz

Tick Wraps cover the lower leg and are infused with permethrin, a synthetic form of chrysanthemum oil. Permethrin, which is also used in products such as Frontline, is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and is approved by the Centers for Disease Control as a tick repellent. The wraps are made by Selectra Industries, a manufacturer in California and infused by Insect Shield, a North Carolina-based company that produces a wide array of insect repellent clothing.

The permethrin on the Tick Wraps last through 70 laundry cycles, Katz said.

(Ticks) mostly get on your body on your lower legs because when we walk through grass or low shrubs they attach and get to other parts of your body,” Katz said. “The lower legs, when it comes to ticks, is the most important part to protect.”

“Creating a barrier to keep ticks from accessing the body, whether it is a physical barrier maintained through clothing or a chemical barrier maintained through the use of repellents, is critically important in minimizing our exposure to ticks and tick-borne diseases,” Dill said.

Using both repellents and a physical barrier such as the Tick Wrap, Dill said, “is particularly effective.”

Katz said the rising number of tick infections has driven patients to his health center.

During a typical week, 25 individuals come to Wildwood Medicine looking for holistic help with their joint pain, migrating pain, tremors, tingling and headaches, all symptoms of tick-borne illnesses. A decade ago, there was just one or two such patients.

“Tick-borne illnesses are still so tough to diagnose and treat because of all the symptoms, so people look for alternative forms of medicine,” Katz said.

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