It is amazing the extreme climatic conditions some of God’s creatures can endure. Anything that can live through the harsh Siberian winter has to be hardy. And mean. You wouldn’t believe the mosquitos here. They’re small but quick. In the still of the night they’re as loud as airplanes, so you can’t mistake their whereabouts. But they’re really tough. If you do manage to swat the elusive critter that’s draining your face dry, you won’t crush its hard shell without doing serious damage to your own skull.
In the many beautiful forested areas of Nizhnaya Yeltsovka,where I live, and Akademgorodok, where our seminary is, one meets a different and scarier blood-sucker: the tick. These ticks are probably not much worse than those in other places, except for one thing: they’re frequently carriers of the encephalitis virus, which attacks the central nervous system and can lead to permanent mental and physical disablement and, frequently, death.
This makes walking in the woods a fairly risky business. Although there are usually wide paths through the trees, one can pick up a tick by brushing against something. Even if you stay on the bare trail, away from foliage, these ticks sometimes drop down on your head from overhanging branches.
The odds of a tick being a carrier of encephalitis are fairly high, some years around 50 percent. Thus people need to be ever on the lookout, inspecting their clothing and persons after being outdoors. (One website recommends every 10–15 minutes.) Anyone who discovers a tick needs to go to a clinic or hospital. The tick will be tested, and if it proves to be infected, the victim receives an antidote.
Why not just stay out of the woods? That should reduce the chances, and yet people can get ticks anywhere outdoors, simply by brushing against a bush or walking in grass. If you ride buses, you may pick up a tick that was dropped there by someone else. Or a dog may shed one in your building. Two years ago the young daughter of one of my neighbors got bit while playing in the sandbox. Recently one woman I know, who is very careful, told me she found a tick in her apartment.
It’s recommended here that residents buy “tick insurance.” A policy costs around $12. The policy holder, if bitten, can then receive treatment at no further cost. Without the policy, the antidote costs $300 or more.
The Novosibirsk region is considered the fifth most “dangerous” territory in Russia in terms of the number of tick bites. Around the end of April there were around 600 reported cases in Novosibirsk and its environs. Of all areas in the Novosibirsk region, the place where I live and work is one of the two or three worst. So far, by God’s grace, I’ve eluded the hungry jaws of the little beastie ….