Will ticks be worse this year?
“It probably didn’t hurt them, that’s for sure,” said Dr. Jonathan Larson, University of Kentucky Extension Entomologist, on the mild winter’s effects on the parasite. “Blacklegged deer ticks, in particular, are active throughout the winter, any day above freezing. We have also seemingly had a damp spring, which encourages the kind of habitat ticks thrive in.
“In short, yes, I think it’s likely there could be more this year, but I also think it’s a good idea for everyone to take as much caution as possible during this time of year, every year, to prevent tick bites.”
When people think of ticks, they often think of them as a spring or summertime problem.
“This is the case for two of our common Kentucky ticks, the lone star tick and the American dog tick.” says Larson. “Adults of these species are most common between April and August, with nymphal and larval stages popping up as well.”
These two species of tick can be important vectors of spotted fever rickettsia (American dog tick) and the Alpha-Gal red meat allergy (Lone star tick).
“The most famous tick though, tends to be the blacklegged deer tick, also known as just the deer tick,” Larson indicates. “This species is noteworthy, as they are the only vector for Lyme disease in the eastern half of the United States. Blacklegged ticks like to feed on their favorite host, the white tail deer, but are more than happy to also slurp up some blood from a human. Unlike their aforementioned cousins, adults of this species are most common from October to May and will be out and about on any day above freezing.”
Blacklegged tickCases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases in the United States are increasing each year. They are also increasing in Kentucky. Lyme is very common in the northeastern region of the United States, but in recent years, doctors have seen more cases in the mid- and south-eastern states as well.
Scientists believe this is because blacklegged tick populations are growing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, cites that Lyme disease affected an estimated 450,000 people in 2018, a 1,400% increase from the number of cases seen in 2003.
In people, Lyme disease symptoms include fever, fatigue, joint pain and a rash that appears in a bulls-eye pattern at the site of the bite. This disease also infects dogs and can cause lameness, joint pain and fever. Proper removal of the tick and early treatment for illness are the most important steps you can take if an infection takes place.
Blacklegged ticks are found anywhere that deer may roam. They “quest” at the tips of branches or on plants that deer would be likely to rub up against. When they get on humans, they will seek out a thin-skinned area where they can plug in their mouthparts.
Ticks must drink blood in order to develop through their life cycle and females need blood to produce eggs as well. The mouths of ticks have backward facing spines and they can produce a natural “cement” to help anchor them in place.
Tick removalIf you find a tick feeding on you, you need to safely remove it as soon as possible.
There are many “remedies” you can find for removing ticks on the internet, but the most basic advice is best. Use a pair of tweezers to grab the tick as close to your skin as possible and firmly pull the tick straight up. Do not wiggle the tick out, do not twist it around; just one swift pull upwards from the skin.
You must also avoid treating the tick with essential oils, alcohol or fire while it is still “plugged in” to you. You will drive the tick off with these kinds of products, but you will also increase the chance the tick “vomits” into you, possibly transferring any pathogens that may be inside of them.
Create a tick-safe zone
The CDC recommends the following practices to make your yard less attractive to ticks. These are some simple landscaping techniques that can help reduce tick populations:
Susan Fox is the Lyon County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.