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It’s tick season and you need to be prepared

Thursday May 30, 2024

Insects can spread diseases

By Abigail Miller

An enlarged view of a black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick.

CELINA – The number of Ohioans who contracted Lyme disease nearly doubled last year, from 552 cases in 2022 to 1,079 cases in 2023, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

High cases are expected again this year as disease-carrying tick populations should be plentiful following Ohio’s second-warmest winter on record.

Growing tick populations

Lyme disease affects both humans and dogs and is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted by a tick called the black-legged tick, also called the deer tick, according to ODH. The bacteria are normally found in mice, squirrels and other small mammals without causing disease.

Due to factors such as climate change and human encroachment into wild areas, ticks have been on the rise in the Midwest over the past five to 10 years, said Dr. Don Cipollini Jr., professor of biological sciences at Wright State University.

“One of the things that keeps ticks and other insects down is cold winters,” Cipollini said. “The colder the winter, the more often the ticks are knocked back and have to start over in the spring. So the milder the winter, the less die-off they experience and the faster and faster and bigger the start of the season can be.”

Ohio experienced its second warmest winter

recorded in 2023-2024, with an average temperature 7.4 degrees above the 20th century average, according to the Ohio State Climate Office.

These conditions allowed ticks to move north and avoid the standard seasonal restart, Cipollini said.

“They don’t get hit back so hard every winter, and they allow that

to spread north and build larger populations,” he said. This is also accompanied by issues such as high deer populations

the state and increasingly tame deer moving into suburban areas.”

Deer too rodents carry ticks in human habitations.

“Increasing deer numbers, climate change, human encroachment on wildlife, all these things contribute to an increase in the presence of ticks and tick bites,” Cipollini said.

Photo by Bill Thornbro/The Daily Standard

Common ticks in Ohio

Lyme disease

Deer ticks, wood ticks and lone star ticks are the most common ticks in Ohio. Not all ticks are infected with disease-causing pathogens — about 20% to 30% of black-legged tick nymphs emerging in the Northeast and Midwest this spring and summer will carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, experts estimate.

However, it is mainly deer ticks that transmit Lyme disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually begin between three and thirty days after a bite occurs and may include fever, headache, fatigue, and a dandruff-like rash.

“There’s often a symptom associated with a tick that has bitten (and) infected you, and that is this particular rash that you get near the bite,” Cipollini said. “It’s round and red. It’s a spot. People call it a bull’s-eye. If you have the tick bite in the center, there’s a red rash and a ring around that bite.”

A bull’s-eye indicates that someone has been bitten by a tick that may carry Lyme disease.

“Not everyone gets that specific symptom even if they get bitten by a tick like that, so that’s not the only (indicator),” Cipollini said.

After a tick bite, those infected with Lyme disease may also experience fever, unexplained aches and pains and general malaise, Cipollini added.

“It just makes you feel bad, you know?” he said. “These are the types of symptoms you should look out for, especially if you have seen a bite like this on you or know you have had deer ticks on you. You should look out for these types of symptoms and then go to the doctor.”

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, antibiotics can cure most cases of Lyme disease. The sooner treatment begins, the faster and more complete the recovery. After treatment, some patients may still have muscle or joint pain and nervous system symptoms. This is called post-Lyme disease syndrome.

Other tick-borne diseases

In addition to Lyme disease, ticks can transmit many other diseases, Cipollini said.

“There’s one called babesiosis, which is quite an interesting disease,” he said. “These all cause similar symptoms: fever, malaria-like symptoms, just feeling bad, nausea, headache.”

Another disease transmitted by ticks — specifically the lone star tick — causes a meat allergy called alpha-gal syndrome, which can be temporary or lifelong, Cipollini said.

“A bite with an infected lone star tick causes you to react to a certain carbohydrate found in red meat, essentially causing you to develop an allergic reaction to this carbohydrate in red meat,” he said. “It’s commonly called alpha-gal syndrome, named after the specific carbohydrate you’re reacting to. That’s one that can sneak up on you.”

Those who contract the disease may not even realize they have the disease because symptoms don’t appear until about eight hours after eating red meat.

“You get these symptoms and you don’t necessarily associate it with the hamburger you ate eight hours ago,” he continued. “So that’s an interesting one. There’s a variety, with Lyme disease at the top and a few of these others that are less common but important nonetheless.”

Prevention of tick bites

To prevent a tick bite and the associated diseases, Cipollini recommends regularly wearing tick repellents and long clothing outdoors.

“The use of repellents is very important,” he said. “Any time you go to an area where you (come into contact with) long grass, trip over trees, take walks where you brush against foliage and the like, there is a chance that a tick will get you. If you go through an old walk across a meadow or prairie, with only bare legs, it’s almost a guarantee that once you come out the other side, you’ll have ticks on you.”

Before entering high-risk drawing areas, a person should put on long clothing, tuck their pant legs into their socks, and then apply insect repellent to the socks and pant legs.

“That’s the best you can do to keep them off you, if you can,” he said. “The second thing is to always do a tick check when you’re done.”

The Ohio Department of Health recommends performing a full body check for ticks using a hand mirror or full-length mirror to view all parts of the body upon returning from tick-infested areas.

Ticks can enter the house on clothing and later attach to a person. That’s why it’s important to examine pets, clothing and bags.

ODH also recommends drying clothes on high heat for 10 minutes in the dryer to kill ticks.

“If clothing is damp, additional time may be required,” according to the ODH website. “If the clothes need to be washed, warm water is recommended.”

Remove a tick

The best way to remove a tick is to use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the parasite as close to the skin surface as possible. ODH provides the following instructions:

• Pull away from your skin with steady, even pressure.

• Do not twist or pull the tick; This can cause the tick’s mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers. If you cannot remove the mouthparts with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

•Dispose of a live tick by soaking it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

•Wash your hands and the bit area with soap and water.

•Do not use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish or other folk remedies to remove a tick. Those methods don’t work.

– The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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