The Working Waterfront

Ticked off at a nasty arthropod

Proliferation of ticks leads to serious illness

By Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2022-12-07
Last Modified 2022-12-07

In the story of Passover, my favorite Jewish holiday, the Egyptians are tormented by ten plagues. Many of them entail an excess of some sort of unpleasant critter, like lice, or frogs (which I find very pleasant but maybe not in biblical quantities).

Lately, I find myself wondering what wrong North Haven might be facing divine retribution for, as the island seems to be crawling with an excess of our most unpleasant critter—ticks.

And not just any ticks! Not these, the large, annoying-yet-benign, easy-to-spot-and-remove dog ticks. These are deer ticks in their most microscopic nymph form. Smaller than a punctuation mark and laden with all sorts of nasty bacteria, the odds of finding one on you before it has a chance to bite are slim.

My infection came in the form of 24-hour bouts of low fever and severe joint pain that left me barely able to walk.

I’m feeling particularly vindictive towards an arthropod I already despised because Penrose and I were both recently infected with anaplasmosis, a tick-borne bacterial illness. Like Lyme, its better-known counterpart, anaplasmosis can cause general ickiness, fever, and body aches. Unlike Lyme, it’s rarely heralded by a tell-tale rash, and can be harder to spot. Left untreated, it can lead to sepsis.

My infection came in the form of 24-hour bouts of low fever and severe joint pain that left me barely able to walk. I slept the day away, wrapped in a blanket, with ice packs wedged under my hips in an attempt to alleviate the deep ache. The bones in my arms throbbed, my stomach roiled, and all plans were postponed.

The next day I awoke, seemingly cured, but when the pain and fever recurred ten days later, I figured I’d better get some blood work done. I got a positive hit for anaplasmosis within a day and was able to start a two-week course of doxycycline.

Pen started complaining of nausea, headaches, and fatigue within a few days of school starting, so I wrote it off to the readjustment to waking up early and spending most of the day indoors. Her recurring leg pain could easily have been the result of kickball and PE, and since she always seemed to pop up out of her malaise if she got an invitation for a bike ride from her neighborhood friends, I continued to chalk her fluctuating wellness up to her new schedule.

I couldn’t ignore it anymore when, hours before we were supposed to get on the boat to visit my parents and go to the Common Ground Fair, her temperature jumped from 100.8 to 102 in an hour, and she started sobbing that her arm hurt too much to move.
The locum nurse practitioner kindly agreed to a house call, and, given the lack of upper respiratory symptoms or a rash, determined that it was most likely also anaplasmosis.

Within a few days of our doxycycline courses, Penrose and I were fever free, though still tired and achy, and continued to improve quickly. Soon, we were both up and around, with added sun protection and regular probiotics to counter the less pleasant side effects of the antibiotic.

The tick that I’m reasonably certain infected me hid inside a bump on the side of my knee for four days. I checked it regularly, but figured it was a mosquito bite, until it emerged, a tiny black speck almost too small to grab with tweezers. I never saw one on Penrose. I’ve heard of three other people and at least four dogs with anaplasmosis right now, and according to a report on Maine Public Radio, Lyme cases are up from last year as well.

Ticks are only going to get worse as our winters trend milder, our deer population overflows, and conditions remain too dry to attempt controlled field burns. I can only hope that some sort of mitigation measures—a vaccine, a deer cull, something—are eventually put in place. We could do without this particular plague.

Courtney Naliboff lives, teaches, plays music, and writes on North Haven. She may be reached at