MEDFIELD, Mass. -- It's a cloudy day at a youth soccer game in Concord, with intermittent breaks of rain.
For Brandi Dean, watching her son Rylan on the field can be nerve-racking. It's not the game she's worried about, it's what's lurking on the grounds.
"It's everywhere and I’m always trying to be careful with my kids whenever we go out. I spray their shoes with permethrin" said Dean.
Dean is worried about ticks and more specifically Lyme disease, a disease she's battled for almost a decade.
"It's like feeling like you're in a torture chamber every single day. It's awful. I had no idea...no idea" said Dean.
“The deer ticks are what we call ambush predators, they're sitting out at the edges of twigs” said Dr. Sam Telford, a professor of infectious disease at Tufts university and a tick expert.
He's been tracking the massive spread of ticks across region for decades.
"Once upon a time I would have to go to the Cape or the Islands, now Boxboro, Harvard, Medfield, Medway, even Shrewsbury are good places to collect ticks" said Telford.
We met him in a field near the old Medfield State Hospital, collecting ticks with a large flannel cloth attached to a rod. He sweeps the cloth over brush near the tree line, which the ticks believe are an animal.
"Ten or fifteen years ago I could go for an hour and find two ticks, now I can go for an hour and get 40 or 50," said Telford.
Ticks are the primary carrier of Lyme disease and according to the latest data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, there were more than 8,600 infections in 2017 -- a 50 percent increase from 2013. The most infections last year came from Plymouth (1449) Middlesex (1,424), and Worcester counties (1077).
“It's all Eastern Massachusetts, I mean it's completely red, one day all of Massachusetts will be red” said Telford.
Between the years 2012 and 2015, the city of Boston led all cities and towns with 489 infections, followed by the towns of Plymouth and Marshfield.
Telford says that ticks prefer shade, so you're most likely to pick one up near the edges of shrubs or woods.
He says that ticks hate the sun, so you're less likely to encounter them midday.
To avoid tick bites:
- Telford says to keep bug spray by the door and spray when you go out. Telford says products with DEET have been reliable. The CDC website on Lyme Disease has a list of products.
- Do tick checks at the end of the day
- Shower at night to rinse potential ticks out of your hair.
“If you're working out in your yard, going out for a hike, especially if your children are going to kick a ball into the woods, anywhere in Massachusetts is now at risk” he said.
An errant pass sends a soccer ball sailing into the woods. Dean cringes. It’s hard for her not to react. She says her son knows to stay away.
Sitting on lawn chairs with other parents at the edge of the soccer field, Dean is not afraid to share her story.
"I was on IV antibiotics for twelve months and I'm off everything now" she said.
The other parents share their stories with Dean: an aunt who became paralyzed from Lyme; a friend who traveled overseas for treatment.
It’s apparent she’s not alone in this fight.
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