Thursday, May 3, 2012

A balance of evils

The news cannot have escaped you: ticks are expected to have a banner year.  I’m sure this news thrills you as much as it thrills me.  I have dogs and cats who go outside. I like to go outside myself.  I know that there are infected ticks in my own backyard (a neighbor was infected by a tick in the park across the street last summer).  So, as some people cast their minds towards whether it’s time to replace that grill and whether there’s still time to expand the back deck, I’m thinking about chemicals. Sum-sum-summer-time, you know. 
Now, reasonable minds may differ on this. Mere repellants do not appeal to me. In my mind, no tick should live to bite another day. Permethrin is, then, should be my chemical of choice. It's what's recommended as being a safer choice than a potential tick bite.  So my analysis is easy and I'm all set, right?  As with all things Lyme, it's never that easy. 

Permethrin has some issues.  It's a neurotoxin. Probably. Also, it probably causes cancer. But the EPA hasn't really looked into that, so it's hard to say. It is highly toxic to aquatic critters (and probably plants, but that's not really been studied all that much either).  It's highly toxic to honeybees and apparently it will kill my cats.


My neurological system is already plenty compromised, thanks. Cancer kinda runs in my family.  Permethrin, then, may not be the best option for me. 

I'm also pretty sure that another tick-borne infection would do me in, so I reluctantly must consider mere repellants.  Picaridin is the new, cool tick repellant kid on the block. It seems pretty okay, except that it may be toxic to freshwater fish.  The World Health Organization feels it does not present an unacceptable health risk.  I'm not sure I find that a glowing endorsement. Every natural herbal option I've tried has, on me, acted as insect perfume.  Bugs dig me, especially with some fresh sauce. 

I want the perfect chemical. I want something that is only toxic to ticks. Okay, and mosquitoes.  Fleas would be nice too. But not my cats. Not innocent fish, or algae.  And not, you know, me. I want a toxin that makes moral judgements and decisions, that can be smart, agile. It's emotional decision making, I know. I think I'm allowed. What I want, indeed, what I feel I deserve, and you deserve, is a toxin as smart as borrelia burgdorferi and its cousins. We get smarter about cancer every day. We could get smart about insect-borne diseases. But we don't. Still. So I will weigh my options and make the best choice I can. it will not be the best option we are capable of producing--of that, I am certain.