By DOUG GRAVES
COSHOCTON, Ohio — They’re back.
The weather’s finally warm. The sun is out … and, so are the ticks. They are no laughing matter, and anyone working in the agriculture industry knows of the dangers when encountering these bloodsuckers.
“With the extended winter cold we’ve experienced this year and the slower-to-develop spring weather, you can expect to see a lot of ticks starting to come out all at once,” said Glen Needham, a retired entomologist and tick expert formerly with Ohio State University extension. “Think of it as kind of a tick logjam.”
Already, Needham has collected the first blacklegged, or deer, tick nymph of the season in Coshocton County, and he said this is just the beginning of what people can expect to see as tick season ramps up.
“Although we’ve experienced a longer than normal winter, we really didn’t have a polar vortex come through and kill back the ticks, which typically are pretty cold-hardy,” he explained. “For example, soil temperatures have to reach zero to minus-5 degrees Fahrenheit to freeze dog ticks. All the extended cold weather did was just delay tick emergence.
“With these 70- and 80-degree days we’re now experiencing, ticks are going to be active and very hungry.”
With the rising tick population comes the risk of contracting tickborne illnesses such as Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Lyme disease. Lyme is the major threat associated with deer tick bites. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Symptoms of Lyme disease, which can appear days to months after a tick bite, typically include fever, headache, neck stiffness, joint pain, facial palsy, heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash.
According to the CDC, Lyme disease and other arthropod-borne diseases spread by ticks, fleas and mosquitoes have tripled in the last 12 years. “Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but it can be an arduous, debilitating disease,” Needham pointed out.
Illnesses from mosquito, tick and flea bites tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016. When it comes to tick bites, Pennsylvania outstrips all other states, with 73,600 cases. New York is second with 69,313 cases and New Jersey is third with 51,578.
Lyme disease specifically is on the rise in Ohio, Needham said, with more than 270 reported cases in 2017 alone. Over that 12-year period (2004-16) Ohio saw 1,358 cases.
States in this region with tickborne disease include Tennessee (5,950 cases), Illinois (3,685), Iowa (2,046), Indiana (1,560), Michigan (1,493) and Kentucky (1,098).
“It’s important to know the kinds of ticks, how to prevent getting bit and, if you are bitten, how to remove them, considering that deer ticks have been reported in some 70 of Ohio’s 88 counties,” Needham said.
He advised that deer ticks are typically found in wooded areas, while American dog ticks are found in grassy habitat next to woods, road edges and paths, feeding on animals including deer, birds and rodents.
“They can range from poppy seed-size in the nymph state to watermelon seed-size in the unfed adult state,” Needham said. “They can climb onto your skin or clothes if you happen to brush against the vegetation and you might not even feel it.”
To protect farmers and others working in the fields he suggests using U.S. EPA-registered repellents, tucking pants legs into socks, wearing light colors to make it easier to see the ticks and checking oneself thoroughly after spending time in areas that may contain ticks.
To learn more about ticks and how to keep people and pets safe, OSU extension has developed a webinar and website with information about tick biology, tick identification and related diseases. The site can be accessed at http://u.osu.edu/tick