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2 months ago

WATCH OUT: Disease-carrying ticks widespread across Alabama

As a turkey hunter, I am keenly aware of the threat posed by sneaking through the Alabama woods. And I’m not talking about the danger of encountering a member of the serpent family.

I’m talking about something much, much smaller but possibly just as harmful.

It’s the family of ticks that turkey hunters dread each spring, and the prevalence of disease-carrying ticks is becoming more evident each year.

Emily Merritt, a research associate at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, has been working on a project, with funding assistance provided from the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (Pittman-Robertson) through the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), since 2015 to determine the species of ticks in Alabama and their ranges.

Merritt said a study on ticks and tick-related illnesses hadn’t been done since the early 1990s, and it was very limited in scope.

The study that started in 2015 was to update and expand that research to include field collection sites for ticks.

“We collected ticks once a month for a year,” Merritt said. “We were all over the state. We also worked with WFF wildlife biologists to collect ticks off of deer for all three years and with the USDA (Department of Agriculture) to get ticks off of raccoons for two years.”

The most commonly collected ticks included the Lone Star tick, the Gulf Coast tick, the black-legged tick (aka deer tick) and the American dog tick.

The Lone Star tick is the most common tick in Alabama and can transmit a host of diseases, including the alpha-gal red meat allergy, Southern rash disease (a Lyme-like illness), tick paralysis and spotted fever diseases that are closely related to Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A white dot in the middle of the tick’s back is the reason for the Lone Star name.

“We found that the Lone Star tick and the Gulf Coast tick are the most aggressive,” Merritt said. “They hunt down their prey. Some ticks sit and wait, but the Lone Star and Gulf Coast ticks will actively seek out hosts. Turkey hunters complain that when they’re hunting they can actually see ticks crawling to them. Usually, that’s the Lone Star tick. I’ve also heard it called the turkey tick.”

Merritt said the Lone Star tick is found primarily in hardwood stands, while the Gulf Coast tick, which is a little larger and transmits similar diseases, is found primarily in more open areas with shrubs.

“The Gulf Coast tick likes areas like new clear-cuts, and they are found in controlled burn areas,” she said. “These are harsh, hot environments where you don’t often find ticks, but the Gulf Coast tick loves it.”

The tick that has gained the most notoriety because of its association with Lyme disease is the black-legged tick.

“It is the main culprit for spreading Lyme disease, but it also can spread other illnesses, like anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia,” Merritt said. “We find black-legged ticks equally in pine and hardwood stands.”

Merritt said the American dog tick also can transmit all the diseases associated with the other tick species.

“As the name implies, they bite dogs a lot,” she said. “We find them in people’s backyards, especially if they’ve got a nice, green lawn and a nearby wooded area. Obviously, people’s dogs are at risk. If their kids play in the backyard or if you’re gardening or landscaping in the yard, people can come in contact with the American dog tick.”

At one time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) insisted that Lyme disease was limited to the Northeast U.S., with a concentration of the disease around Lyme, Conn. In recent years, the presence of Lyme-like disease (Lyme borreliosis) has been acknowledged in Alabama.

“Lyme disease refers to one specific bacteria,” Merritt said. “Lyme borreliosis indicates there is a host of similarly related bacteria that cause illness in Alabama.

“Another thing we hear from doctors is there is no Rocky Mountain spotted fever here. That’s not true at all. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has been tracking this. The problem with the CDC and other health agencies is they don’t consider it much of an issue down here. But it definitely is an issue.”

In fact, a graphic from ADPH shows that spotted fever-type illnesses have skyrocketed in recent years compared to the other tick-related illnesses.

“People are getting sick from ticks down here,” Merritt said. “So it’s counterproductive for those agencies to say it’s rare. If you are an outdoors person your chances of coming in contact with these ticks is pretty decent. There is definitely a risk.

“One of the reasons I’m trying to get the word out, and when we publish our research (later this year), is we really need doctors to recognize that these tick-borne illnesses are here in Alabama.”

One aspect of Merritt’s research includes a survey conducted through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The survey was sent to hunters and anglers to ask about their experiences, knowledge of and costs associated with ticks and tick-borne illnesses.

For those who spend time outdoors, Merritt said the project research found that the most effective deterrent for tick attachment is a spray that contains permethrin.

“You don’t apply it to your skin,” Merritt said. “You spray it on your clothes, boots, hats, socks, backpacks, basically any fabric. When I go camping, I spray my tents and tarps with it. Depending on what brand you get, it will last anywhere from two weeks or two washings to six weeks and six washings.

“More so than bug spray, we found that the products with permethrin significantly reduced the amount of ticks we encountered. It also works well on other biting insects like chiggers and mosquitoes.”

Although the likelihood of contact with ticks is higher during the warmer months, Merritt said the insects are active year-round in Alabama.

“Be on the lookout, not only on pets, but your children, your loved ones and yourself,” she said. “If you go outside, there is the potential to come in contact with ticks. When you come back inside, check your clothes and gear immediately to see if there are any crawling ticks on you, your pets or children. Then take it a step further and check your body thoroughly for ticks. If you need to use a mirror or a partner, do that. Ticks can hide in all sorts of areas that are hard to see.

“And the longer a tick is attached, the better the chances are to get a tick-borne illness if that tick is harboring that illness.”

If you do find a tick attached to your body, Merritt said don’t haphazardly try to remove the insect.

“Don’t try to pick it off with your fingers or burn it off with a match or anything like that,” she said. “Get tweezers and get as close to the skin as you possibly can. Firmly grasp the tick where it attached to your body and start pulling with steady, even pressure until it eventually releases. It might be uncomfortable and a little painful, but you want to get that tick off as soon as you can.”

Merritt said tick-borne illnesses may cause symptoms as early as a couple of days, but symptoms could also occur as late as a couple of months after the exposure.

“If you start to experience flu-like symptoms, like aches and pain, or you see an expanding red rash, sometimes spotted and sometimes circular, you need to see a doctor,” she said. “It’s normal for a bite to be red, but if you see an expanding rash or it seems to be spreading to other parts of your body, that’s a clear indication that you do have a tick-borne illness.”

Merritt said if the tick is found it can be saved for testing by taping it to an index card, placing it in a freezer bag and storing it in the freezer.

“But don’t wait for test results,” she said. “If you think you have a tick-borne illness, your doctor should go ahead and start treatment. For most tick-borne illnesses, that involves treatment with antibiotics. For tick paralysis, it’s removal of the tick. For the alpha-gal allergy there is no treatment. You just have to avoid eating red meat, and that’s terrible.”

For more information, go here or this website, the Alabama Lyme Disease Association’s website.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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7 hours ago

Regions latest to withdraw from BCA

Regions Financial Corp. became the latest company to withdraw its membership from the Business Council of Alabama. According to a story in the Montgomery Advertiser, the company formally notified BCA leadership of their intentions today.

This decision from one of the state’s largest employers comes on the heels of Alabama Power’s withdrawal from the business organization on Monday.

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Both companies had privately expressed concerns about the BCA’s leadership and direction. Their decisions to end long-standing relationships with the BCA mark a turning point in their collective effort to strengthen the business community’s approach to economic development and job growth.

BCA Chairman Perry Hand acknowledged for the first time on Monday that Billy Canary was, in fact, now the outgoing President of the group. In a letter made public by Hand, he detailed that Canary’s tenure would end sometime prior to the start of next year. The departing companies identified the uncertainty surrounding that transition as a significant contributing factor to their leaving.

In addition to BCA’s failure to settle on a timely and decisive transition plan, the companies also expressed concern over the group’s effectiveness and financial health. The Yellowhammer Multimedia Executive Board has itself explored some of these same issues facing BCA.

Regions Financial Corp. is a multi-state bank based out of Birmingham. According to its website, it is the only Fortune 500 company headquartered in Alabama and has $123 billion in assets.

Allison Ross is the owner and publisher of Yellowhammernews.com.

8 hours ago

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox says he’s pro-life, but his language is chock-full of pro-choice phraseology

Earlier this month the Democrat Party’s nominee for governor, Walt Maddox, responded to a questionnaire about his views on many issues facing Alabamians, but his answers about abortion proved to be the most revealing, although probably unintentionally.

The Tuscaloosa mayor began by writing that he was “personally opposed to abortion,” a slippery term if there ever was one, before proceeding to use similar phrases that we normally hear from the pro-choice crowd.

It’s as if Maddox was sampling lines from an abortion apologist’s Greatest Hits album.

Why this matters: Alabama already has one pro-choice politician in high office with Sen. Doug “20 Weeks” Jones, who infamously voted against banning aborting unborn children when they’re 20-weeks old and capable of feeling pain. We cannot afford to have another one.

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The questionnaire was formulated by the editors of Yellowhammer News and our partners over at the Alabama Policy Institute. Here’s the rather straight-forward question on abortion:

“Alabama has four abortion clinics operating across the state, and Planned Parenthood has announced plans to build a new clinic in downtown Birmingham. How do you feel about these clinics and what would you do as governor about any taxpayer funds they receive?”

And here was the mayor’s answer, which as you can read isn’t really an answer at all:

“I’m a pro-life Democrat who is concerned that many Republicans are more pro-birth than pro-life,” Maddox wrote. “Perhaps Sister Joan Chittister best summed up my feelings when she said “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

He continued. “Although I am personally opposed to abortion, under the law of the land a woman has a right to choose up until the point of fetal viability,” he wrote. “The federal Hyde Amendment prohibits use of federal funds to pay for abortions except those that endanger the life of the woman, or that result from rape or incest, and Alabama law does not provide any state funds for abortions. The courts will ultimately decide which of Alabama’s several laws regulating abortion are constitutional, including any restrictions on new abortion clinics. As a governor sworn to uphold the federal and state constitutions and the laws of Alabama, I will faithfully execute Alabama’s laws within the constitutional limits defined by the Supreme Court.”

Here’s a breakdown of Maddox’s pro-choice phraseology:

— “Republicans are more pro-birth than pro-life.” 

I’ve seen this same line in dozens of emails from pro-choice activists after every pro-life column I publish. 

It’s like clockwork. They can’t cope with keeping the focus on abortion because the act is indefensible, so they attempt to change the subject entirely with what they hope is a witty turn of phrase. 

But it’s not witty. It’s hollow, and betrays the hollowness of both their argument and the moral framework it’s built upon. 

The two issues — abortion and welfare — are two entirely different subjects. But in their world, it must be OK to end someone’s life if the state isn’t willing to provide for it financially (which we do for the truly needy, by the way).

— “Although I am personally opposed to abortion, under the law of the land a woman has a right to choose up until the point of fetal viability.”

Maddox is trying to have it both ways here, but this isn’t that sort of issue. If he believes an unborn child is a person, which I suppose forms the basis for his personal opposition to abortion, then any measure of morality would compel him to oppose it completely. 

The unborn child is either a living person or not, and if so, it’s life must be defended as anyone else’s life would be defended.

To believe that, personally, yet do nothing to stop it from happening means one is either a coward or creature of such unscrupulous ambition as to be wholly undeserving of public office.

— “The courts will ultimately decide.”

No, the people will, at least in the end.

But to the point: here Maddox evades the core question by falling back on courts, as if the governor has no role. As if nobody has a role but five of nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. But we’re not living in a judicial tyranny, at least not yet. 

There are many things the governor can do — sign pro-life bills into law, make executive decisions about funding certain abortion providers, and use the bully pulpit to encourage greater action.

It seems as if Maddox might not be willing to do any of those things, preferring to toss the hot potato over to the courts.

Fundamentally, this is weakness. I’m sure one could have heard an argument similar to Maddox’s in the 1850s: “Although I am personally opposed to slavery, under the law of the land a white man has a right to own a black man. So …”

Then he quotes Sister Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun, in what he may think is some sort of clever nod to faith. 

But conservative Catholics would see straight through this, too, because Sister Joan disagrees with Catholic teaching on abortion. She’s effectively pro-choice because she has said that she opposes it as a primary form of birth control but leaves room for abortion in many other situations, which makes her opinion on the matter decidedly not Catholic at all. 

The fact that of all the people he could quote, Maddox quotes a nun who disagrees with the Catholic teaching on abortion is very revealing.

Perhaps one of his staffers wrote the response, allowing their pro-choice phraseology to seep into the answers. Maybe he would have said more if given more space and time.

If it’s sincerely held, Maddox should stand strong on his personal opposition to abortion. We need more people who share his beliefs to step forward, to convince others, and to help put an end to the awful practice. 

Yellowhammer News would happily publish a guest post by Maddox should he wish to further explain his beliefs about abortion, and we’d hope such an explanation would dispense with wordy obfuscation and answer our inquiry more directly — since he is opposed to abortion, what would he do to stop abortions from happening in Alabama?

Until such an explanation is offered, Alabamians should remain very skeptical of Maddox’s views on abortion, and certainly his ability to represent a state whose citizens are overwhelmingly pro-life.

@jpepperbryarsis the editor of Yellowhammer News and the author of American Warfighter

9 hours ago

Far out: Univ. of Alabama astronomer helps discover a new type of black hole

Astronomy news is always old news because of, you know, light years and such.

About 750 million years ago, in a galaxy far, far away (queue the Star Wars intro), a black hole consumed a nearby star in an event that has revealed to astronomers the existence of something new: a mid-sized black hole.

Dr. Jimmy Irwin, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Alabama who is part of the team that discovered this new type of black hole, explained the revelation in an interview with Yellowhammer News.

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Astronomers have established with good evidence the existence of “low-mass” black holes, which are judged to be between 3 and 30 times more massive than the sun, as well as “super-massive” black holes, one of which has been discovered in our own galaxy to be 4 million times more massive than the sun.

“We know that low-mass black holes form and we know that high-mass black holes form,” Dr. Irwin explained, “but between these two book ends, it’s not clear whether there’s a mechanism in nature that allows black holes to be formed with, say, a mass above one hundred times the mass of our sun and below one million times the mass of our sun.”

There’s pretty good evidence now, though, that such medium-sized black holes do exist.

As Dr. Irwin explained, when a black hole rips up and consumes a star, its debris becomes very hot and emits x-ray radiation, creating data that becomes observable over time.

“There’s already a built-in time lag, based upon the distance of the object,” Irwin said.

The observations that led to this discovery were made through what Dr. Irwin described as a detective-like process.

The astronomer who began the project, Dr. Dacheng Lin, was actually a post-doctoral researcher under Irwin in years past. Dr. Lin began looking back at data recorded by a variety of telescopes in Europe and the United States between 2003 and 2006 and discovered an observable change at a particular spot in this far-away universe.

“There was a bright x-ray source in one observation and it was dimmer in the next one,” Irwin explained.

“Piecing together the history he was able to discover that this probably happened, or at least this radiation reached the earth’s telescopes, probably sometime in 2003,” he said.

Irwin stressed that we’ve known about black holes for a long time, but not of this type.

“This idea of stars being torn apart isn’t a new idea,” he said. “What’s new is that we’re seeing stars ripped apart by one of these mid-sized black holes.”

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News

9 hours ago

Rep. Roby: Combatting the opioid crisis at home and across the country

There are countless important issues currently facing our state and nation. From our ongoing conversations with North Korea to the continuing need for enhanced security at the southern border, there’s no shortage of priorities that warrant discussion. Unfortunately, there is one very serious issue that continues to make headlines: the horrific opioid epidemic that is gripping our state and the entire country.

I’m sure most of us know someone whose life has been affected by opioid abuse. Whether it’s prescription pain relievers or synthetic opioids like fentanyl, the crisis has only gotten worse. 64,070 people died from overdoses in our country in 2016, and 756 of those individuals were Alabamians. Now, in 2018, the problem has not improved. Did you know that 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioid drugs every single day? Just this year alone, it is estimated that more than 2 million Americans will suffer from opioid addiction.

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I’m pleased that last October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. This epidemic has been wreaking havoc on communities and families across our country for far too long. While the statistics are certainly shocking, this is about so much more than numbers. Hundreds of thousands of real American people with lives, careers, and families have lost the battle with opioid drug abuse. That’s why the House has made combating this crisis a top priority over the last several years.

You may remember that back in 2016, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act. Earlier this year, we provided $4 billion in government funding specifically to address the opioid crisis. Building upon this work, the House recently passed dozens of meaningful bills to further combat the opioid epidemic, and I’d like to share the four ways we are using this legislation to help fight this serious issue.

First, with the recently passed legislation, the House is focusing on treatment and recovery. Our bills improve and expand access to treatment and recovery services, provide incentives for enhanced care, and establish comprehensive opioid recovery centers. Hundreds of thousands of Americans from all walks of life are currently trapped by addiction, and it is imperative that we provide the resources to treat their addiction and help them recover.

Second, we’re aiming for prevention. Opioids are an important part of modern day medical care for pain treatment, but they are prescribed entirely too often – and at alarming rates. Our legislation addresses these high prescribing rates while enhancing prescription drug monitoring programs. We have the technology, and it’s past time we used it to more effectively address this crisis. Our legislation also encourages non-addictive opioid alternatives, when practical, to treat pain, and improves the data that allows us to identify and help at-risk patients before the problem becomes dangerously serious.

Third, we’re making efforts to better protect communities of all sizes throughout the country by giving law enforcement the tools necessary to remove dangerous drugs. Our bills also enable us to better intercept illicit opioids at international mail facilities and improve access to federal resources for local communities.

Last but certainly not least, we’re fighting fentanyl. The legislation we passed in the House allows us to better tackle these ever-changing synthetic drugs, crack down on foreign shipments of illicit drugs, and provide grants for communities to combat fentanyl that is destroying lives as we speak.

I am proud of the efforts we’ve made in the House recently to press forward in our fight against this horrible crisis gripping our state and nation, but our work is far from complete. We owe it to the more than 40,000 Americans who die every year – and their families – to push on until strong progress is made. You can read more about our work to combat the opioid epidemic by visiting www.opioidcrisis.gop.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

10 hours ago

‘Moderate’ Doug Jones continues to prove he is just another liberal on immigration

Senator Doug Jones’ views on immigration seem to line up more with California Senator Kamala Harris than they do with Alabama voters. He has endorsed Harris’ long-shot attempt to end “child separation” at the border as a standalone bill.

He has also taken to Twitter to publicly blame President Trump for the entire problem:

These aren’t really new positions by Senator Jones.

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In an American Immigration Council article by Melissa Cruz, she points out his views, which are very clear over his career:

“Jones opposes construction of the Trump administration’s U.S.-Mexico border wall

“Jones did not support the termination of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative”

“Jones favors upgrading the immigration system. Specifically, he has proposed reassessing the current quota system, as well as looking at potential overhauls to the administrative procedures for immigration.”

“If we can make a more streamlined process of allowing immigrants into this country legally…” Jones said, “we would have far less undocumented immigrants.”

“Jones publicly spoke out against HB 56—then considered the harshest anti-immigrant law in the country—and reiterated that position throughout his campaign.”

Why this matters:

No one believes Senator Jones would be in D.C. if it was not for the fact that the Republicans nominated a completely destroyed dumpster fire named Roy Moore.

The selling point by Alabama’s political press was that “Jones isn’t even that liberal”, a tactic they are using with Walt Maddox as well.

The problem for Jones is that eventually votes will have to be cast and positions will have to be taken.

The reality is Jones is wildly out of step with most Alabamians and every passing day will expose that.

TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a conservative talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN