If you watch or read the news with any regularity, you may have already heard that 2017 is supposed to be a bad year for ticks. Many sources are attributing this uptick in ticks (pun intended!) to an increase in their survival through the warm winter, but those who remember my article about insect adaptions to cold back in December will know that it’s not that simple. As arachnids like their spider relatives, ticks are not actually insects but are similarly skilled at surviving in even freezing temperatures. However, one way warmer winters do increase tick populations is through speeding up and extending their reproductive cycle.
Along with mosquitos and fleas, ticks feed off of the blood of animal hosts. It is through this contact that ticks can spread disease from host to host. Lyme disease is probably one of the better known and feared of the bunch, but ticks can also transmit other diseases. The type of diseases a tick can transmit depends on the particular species. In Ohio, there are three species of tick commonly found: the American dog tick, the lone star tick, and the deer tick.
The American dog tick is the species you’re most likely to come across. Those of us at the conservation district find these guys frequently on the days we work out in the field as much of our work is done in grassy areas which is their preferred environment. Though
American dog ticks do not transmit Lyme disease; they can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Early symptoms consist of severe headache and high fever, followed by a rash. While this disease can cause extensive damage to internal organs if not treated, treatment with antibiotics is very successful.
The lone star tick is present throughout Ohio but is more common in the southern counties. This species prefers shady habitat and can be found in grassy or shrubby areas. Like the American dog tick, the lone star tick does not transmit Lyme disease. This type of tick does transmit several other diseases though, including ehrlichiosis and the heartland virus. Symptoms for both of these diseases are similar to that of the flu, including soreness, tiredness, fever, and headaches.
The deer tick is the species that comes to mind when people talk about the dangers of ticks and is the only known species in the state that can transmit Lyme disease. Also known as the black legged tick, deer ticks are the smallest species in Ohio at only 2 to 4 millimeters. An uncommon occurrence not long ago, deer ticks have now been observed in 60 of Ohio’s 88 counties, including Delaware County. Diagnosed cases of Lyme disease in the state have been on the rise with 160 cases in 2016, more than triple 2011 numbers. In 2017, 14 cases have been found so far, one of which was in Delaware County. The “bull’s eye” rash typically associated with the disease is not a reliable indicator of infection, as rashes occur in only around 70 to 80 percent of cases and not always in the “bull’s eye” pattern. Similar to several of the other tick-borne diseases mentioned, initial symptoms mimic the flu.
While learning the facts about ticks and disease transmission may be a little frightening, there are many things you can do to stay safe while still enjoying the great outdoors. When in wooded or grassy areas, wear long, light-colored clothing as well as a hat or bandana to cover your head. The Center for Disease Control recommends applying a repellent containing permethrin on clothing, and products containing DEET, IR3535, or picaridin on exposed skin. Ask your vet about tick protection for pets- collars, liquid applications, and ingestible tablets are several options. Always follow the label directions whenever using any tick-protection products. Check yourself, children, and pets thoroughly all over the body after returning indoors.
By making a few landscaping changes, you can also discourage ticks from inhabiting your yard. Keep grass regularly mowed and lay down a 3-foot barrier of wood chips or gravel along wooded areas. Areas that are highly frequented like decks, playground equipment, and fire pits should be placed in sunny areas away from yard edges and trees. If you happen to spot an opossum on your property, the last thing you want to do is kill or trap it. Opossums are harmless to humans and are able to eat up to 5,000 ticks per year.
So what should you do if you happen to find a tick on yourself? If the tick is still crawling around and has not yet attached, there is no need to worry. Attachment to the skin is required for disease transmission. Even if the tick is already attached, don’t panic. Remove the tick by firmly grasping with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull upward with a slow, steady pressure. Do not use old folk remedies like nail polish or lighters. After removal, clean the bite site thoroughly with disinfectant.
The CDC reports that attachment for at least 24 hours is required for disease transmission, but preserving any ticks found attached for later testing might be a good precautionary measure. Ticks can be preserved for disease testing by placing in a small container and storing in your freezer. Talk to your doctor about testing for clinical decisions if you begin to exhibit symptoms. If you’d like to get a tick tested to help scientists learn more about ticks and tick-transmitted diseases, visit the Bay Area Lyme Foundation’s webpage at bayarealyme.org. The Bay Area Lyme Foundation is testing ticks from all over the United States to better understand six different pathogens, including several that can cause some of the previously mentioned diseases.
For more information about ticks in Ohio, visit Ohio State University Extension’s website at ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/HYG-2073 or the Delaware General Health District at www.delawarehealth.org. Remember to like the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District on Facebook.
Rebecca Longsmith is a resource conservationist for the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District.