Spring was one of my favorite times growing up in Missouri. I enjoyed the walks on the farm, the hills and hollows, and hiking my favorite trails before the summer heat moved in.
Trees and other plants would burst in vibrant green colors and flowers would bloom in magnificent pageantry. Songbirds would join the chorus of frogs and toads, and the snakes would be out enjoying the heat of the warming sun.
However, after my adventure and revelry, I would be reminded of the other spring event: chiggers and ticks.
Body checks would find the ticks, but the itch of the chiggers would be with you for many days.
Individuals on nature walks over the holiday weekend may have crossed paths with ticks. (Fortunately chiggers do not usually range this far north.)
Ticks are not insects, but arachnids. They are also parasites. A blood meal is necessary to complete each developmental stage of their life.
Ticks may also transmit disease to humans.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is uncommon, but there are cases each year in Ohio. It may be transmitted by the tick most commonly found in our area, the American dog tick.
However, another tick species, the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, has been moving into Ohio. This species was associated with New England and Michigan. It may carry Lyme disease.
I first became aware of the seriousness of Lyme disease while a graduate student in Iowa. A popular congressman and avid hunter had to resign because of a debilitating condition caused by an unknown source.
Years later, it was determined that he had Lyme disease. He had gotten it from the bite of an infected blacklegged tick during a hunting trip, well before the pathogen had been isolated and identified with this tick species.
The primary symptom of Lyme disease is a large bull’s-eye rash, up to 3 inches across, that develops at the site of the tick bite within two to 32 days.
However, about a quarter of infected people do not develop the rash. They often have flu-like symptoms.
Lyme disease is relatively easy to treat with antibiotics when caught in the early stages. Untreated, the disease may severely affect the joints, the central nervous system, and the heart.
The blacklegged tick tends to be found in woods. It is most active during the fall, winter and spring.
The other tick species generally reside along the edge of the woods in brushy areas, unmowed grass, or vegetation along trails, roads or field edges. They are more active during the spring and summer.
All ticks take advantage of passing animals. They do not fly or drop out of trees. They position themselves to hitch a ride when your legs or body touches vegetation.
The blacklegged tick is primarily found in eastern Ohio. It has not been detected in most of the counties in northwestern Ohio, except for Allen County, the only regional county where infected ticks have been confirmed: two or more lab tests have confirmed human cases of Lyme disease with local exposure.
The occurrence of isolated woodlots rather than forest has slowed the spread of the blacklegged tick into our area.
Prompt removal of an attached tick reduces the chance of infection. Tick attachment of several hours or more is often required.
When removing a tick, use tweezers to grasp an embedded tick as close to your skin as possible and near the tick’s mouthparts. Use steady pressure to pull it straight out.
Do not use a hot match or cigarette to remove a tick. This may cause the tick to burst. Solvents or other materials should also not be applied to the tick to “stimulate” the tick to detach. Solvents are ineffective and delay removal.
When in tick areas, wear clothing that makes it easier to see crawling ticks and remove them. This includes longsleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck pant legs into socks and make sure shirt tales are tucked into pants. Also, light-colored clothing makes it easier to see crawling ticks.
If using a tick repellent, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Note that DEET formulations of at least 25 percent are needed to repel ticks.
Blacklegged ticks are very small and difficult to see. I take note of the date when I have been in wooded areas that may contain these ticks in case flu-like symptoms develop. See a physician if the bull’s-eye rash occurs. Always complete a tick check after being outdoors.
Information on ticks may be found at: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/pdf/2073.pdf (tick and tick diseases fact sheet) and http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/ticks-in-ohio.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for The Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.
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