Growing up on a farm, I spent the majority of my time outside, running through pastures, playing with the dogs or working on the farm. Ticks were just a normal part of my childhood.
We would just find them crawling on our clothing or in our hair. It never really mattered how much insecticide treatment we put on the dogs, they always seemed to have ticks. Yeah, they are pretty gross but you just removed them when you found them and moved on with your summer fun.
I do remember one spring, going to school and finding a tick crawling up my arm. I quickly snatched it up with a tissue and asked my teacher what to do with it. She was mortified and almost screamed after I revealed the contents of my tissue.
She had me take the tick to the school nurse, who then placed it in a plastic bag and sent it home with me in case the tick needed to be tested for a disease. I thought this was a silly procedure for a tick that wasn’t even attached, but nevertheless I brought the tick home.
Several years later, I noticed a ring-like rash on my leg and, a few days after that, I developed a fever and flu-like symptoms. My family doctor made the determination it was likely Lyme disease, based on the fact I lived in the country, and had a rash around where a tick had been attached and all the symptoms. She chose to start antibiotic treatment while the labs worked on confirming Lyme disease. By getting treatment quickly, I was able to avoid lasting effects of the disease.
These blood-feeding parasites are hard to avoid if you like being outside in nature as much as I do. But knowing a little more about ticks may prevent you or a family member from experiencing tick-borne illnesses. According to the Entomology Department at The Ohio State University, there are three main tick species in Ohio: the American dog tick, the blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick) and the lone star tick. Each species has identifying markers and are vectors for specific diseases.
The American dog ticks are not only the most common in Ohio but they are also the largest. They feed on medium to large mammals, including dogs and humans. These ticks are most abundant in mid-April through mid-July and can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The Ohio Department of Health recorded 12 incidences of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever last year. The typical symptoms are fever, headache, abdominal pain and vomiting, and some patients develop a rash. Treatment is most effective when started within the first five days of symptoms.
The blacklegged tick or deer tick, which is much smaller and harder to find, predominantly lives in forested areas. They feed on large mammals — hence the name deer tick. They also feed off humans and are a transmitter of Lyme disease. In 2015 there were 154 cases of Lyme disease in Ohio and there have been six reported cases already this year. As I described earlier, the symptoms are fever, fatigue and headache. Lyme disease can also cause muscle soreness and a ring-like rash around the spot the tick was attached.
The female lone star tick is easily the most identifiable, having a distinct silver spot on the upper surface, therefore the name. They are becoming more prevalent in southern Ohio and can be found all year round. Attaching to birds, mammals and humans, the lone star tick is a transmitter of Human Monocytic Ehrlichiosis and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. Luckily both of these are rare in Ohio.
Some ways to prevent ticks are to avoid wooded, bushy or high grass areas. If you are going to be in those areas, take preventative measures like wearing repellents and treating clothing and gear with permethrin. After returning indoors, shower to wash off or find any ticks crawling on you. Examine yourself, your pets and any gear you might be bringing inside. Clothes can be placed in the dryer on high to kill any remaining ticks.
If you happen to find an attached tick, the Ohio Department of Health recommends removal with tweezers. Grasp the embedded tick as close to your skin as possible and pull straight out. Avoid crushing the tick to prevent exposure to infected tick body fluids. Make sure to disinfect the site and wash your hands with soap and water. You should save the attached tick in a container with hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes to preserve the tick for testing in case you begin to show flu-like symptoms. Species can be identified by the C. Wayne Ellett Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic at Ohio State University. Enjoy the outdoors this summer and make sure to check for ticks.
Carol Keck is program coordinator for agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension in Delaware County, writing on behalf of the Delaware County Farm Bureau.