Though my stomach growled, the constant presence of creepy-crawlies and the unshakable visions of ticks crawling through a crack in my suit and burrowing into my skin had left me with little desire to eat. Or perhaps, more accurately, no intention of removing my gloves, lifting the protective netting around my face, and then sitting down beneath the gently swaying canopy.
Instead I took several long drinks through the tube which ran out of my backpack, under my hood and to my mouth, allowing me to stay hydrated without removing any protective gear.
On the shortcut back home five more specimens found their way into my glass vials. These five, along with the dozen I’d already snagged, were carefully placed in the cooler once I returned to my lab. The lab attached to the main house via an enclosed walkway.
Once my trophies were tucked away, I double-checked the wrist monitor for any indication of a rider that I’d missed. The lack of flashing lights and beeps reassured me that I’d retrieved all the insects who’d climbed aboard.
After removing my pack and protective gear, I passed through a scanner, got the all clear, and finally proceeded down the short hallway to the main house.
First things first.
I stripped off every piece of sweat-soaked clothing I had on and placed them directly into the washer, closed the lid, and set the dials on extra-soak and heavy-wash. Next I walked to the bathroom and turned on the water. Testing it periodically against my wrist, I waited until it got to the hottest temperature I could stand and then pulled the plug to start the shower.
When I stepped beneath the scalding rain, I involuntarily sucked air through my teeth but forced my body to remain still until I could stand the heat. Soon my skin adjusted and then I scrubbed every inch, every nook and cranny, and lathered my hair twice.
When I finally felt like I’d scoured away the sensation of tiny legs crawling over my skin, I turned off the water and toweled off. As the thick micro-fiber absorbed the droplets clinging to my skin, I re-checked behind my ears and under my arms- a tick’s favorite places.
Tingling clean, I dressed and made my way to the kitchen. A rolling gurgle from my mid-section encouraged me to hurry.
Over a lunch of apple slices, trail mix, and good-old peanut butter and jelly, I contemplated my research.
Though the tick population seemed to be increasing exponentially, the truth was that their typical fare had been so significantly reduced in population that any body emitting carbon-dioxide as it strolled through the forest would find itself covered in minutes.
Birds were nearly extinct and deer were on the protected species list. Eventually the ticks would face the same fate. Some might call that a blessing but, in reality, the tick could hold the key to human survival.
At each of its four life-cycle stages, a tick needed blood from a host to continue to survive. If the blood it ingested contained a pathogen, this pathogen could be passed to the next host when it came time for the tick to feed again.
Hospitals were no longer safe places. They were being raided and ransacked but ticks…who would steal ticks? If I could feed my specimens with a very specific blood sample at an early stage of development, I could, possibly, provide hundreds of doses of much-needed treatment to those willing to subject themselves…maybe.
I had the blood sample, I had the ticks, all I needed now were a few volunteers.
Do you think it could work?