Monday, July 15, 2013

The not-so-great outdoors

I live in a suburban/rural region with lots of trees and occasional areas that can still be called a "forest". I remember exploring areas like this as a kid when my family spent summers on Long Island. In both Long Island and in Dutchess County (where I live now), mega-houses replaced most of the trees, but the forest still exists. It's just been parceled into smaller areas. You only have to wander into the trees to discover this green kingdom (or vestiges of it, anyway).

But I won't be wandering through the trees anytime soon. It was frightening enough to know that deer ticks can transmit Lyme Disease -- but now they've become truly lethal. There's a report today that the virus that causes encephalitis has been found in the local tick population. Dog!

My grandmother had sleeping sickness (another name for encephalitis) and it was a nightmare. After being bitten by a tse tse fly in Italy at the age of 16, she suffered her whole life. Headaches, constant pain and a brain that couldn't function properly -- that's what encephalitis did to her.

I will never let high weeds touch my skin again. And I certainly won't tramp off into the forest to learn what's there. It's sad. It's like the environment itself has become toxic. And I suspect we'll see more diseases move into the area in the coming years.

With climate change increasing the temperature across the US, how long will scourges like dengue fever remain a distant problem that affects only "other people"? Already, the ticks in Dutchess County (where I live) have tested positive for two malaria-like infectious diseases, babesiosis and anaplasmosis.

It's not safe out there anymore.