COLUMBUS, Ohio – Summer is the time for outdoors: walks through the local parks, hiking or camping at one of Ohio's many state parks, or spending time along wooded areas near home. But getting close to nature could mean picking up unwanted guests on your pets, clothes or backpacks.
Ohio State University Extension entomologist Glen Needham said that now is the time for ticks, small arachnids that hang out along woodland edges, in woods, tall grass, weeds and underbrush, waiting for a meal to pass by.
Ticks, like mosquitoes, feed on the blood of birds, reptiles and mammals (humans and pets included), and by doing so can transmit a variety of diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Fortunately, humans cannot get either disease directly from their pets.
"Ticks generate a lot of fear mainly because of their small size and their ability to go unnoticed on a host," said Needham. But, he said, awareness of one's surroundings, knowing what to look for, and how to protect oneself, can greatly decrease the likelihood of becoming ill.
Ohio is home to 12 tick species. The most frequently encountered tick is the American dog tick, responsible for transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, muscle pain and a rash that spreads to the arms, legs, trunk, palms and soles. Children are more susceptible to the disease than adults.
"People who have these symptoms following a tick bite should see their physician immediately," said Needham.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been found in 71 of Ohio's 88 counties, with almost half of all cases reported in three counties: Clermont, Franklin and Lucas. Over the last nine years, 159 cases of spotted fever have been reported. Nineteen deaths have occurred in Ohio since 1964.
Despite the seriousness of the disease, Needham said the odds of contracting spotted fever are low. "Less than 1 percent of American dog ticks are infected with the bacterium," said Needham.
Additional good news is that the dog tick season is drawing to a close as the tick either dies or goes into diapause (like hibernation) until the following spring.
Another common tick in Ohio is the Lone star tick. It is small, found in southern Ohio and can carry another disease known as Ehrlichiosis. Ehrlichiosis symptoms mimic the flu, with fever, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, joint pain, chills and sometimes a rash. All three stages -- the larvae, nymphs and adults -- will bite people and pets.
The latest addition to the Ohio tick family is the black-legged deer tick. The first established population of the black-legged deer tick was discovered in Coshocton County earlier this year.
Said Needham, "In spite of its limited known distribution, caution is warranted, as the black-legged deer tick is responsible for the transmission of Lyme disease. Right now the larval and nymphal stages are active."
Early Lyme disease also causes flu-like symptoms and a characteristic large, circular red rash. Though not known to be fatal, the disease can progress to chronic arthritis, neurological symptoms and cardiac problems if left untreated.
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States with at least 20,000 cases reported each year. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 60 cases were reported in Ohio last year and 992 cases have been reported since 1990.
Needham and his colleagues, along with Ohio Department of Health and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, are looking for deer ticks in Ohio and educating Ohioans on how to identify ticks and prevent tick-borne diseases.
Before entering potentially tick-infested areas, specialists recommend that adults and children tuck long pants into socks and shirts into pants to keep ticks on the outside of clothing where they are more easily visible. Apply repellent containing DEET to skin and clothing according to directions. Permethrin can also be applied to clothing.
"The tick has to feed for more than a day before it may transmit disease," said Needham. "That's why if you are in a tick-infested area, it's a good idea to check yourself, children and pets at least daily."
If one does find a tick, grasp it as close to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers, a commercially designed tick remover or protected thumb and finger. Slowly pull the tick out. Needham said that using other techniques, such as nail polish, rubbing alcohol, petroleum jelly or a hot object to "back the tick out" don't work.
"Those are just myths," he said.
If caught early, all the tick-borne diseases can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
"That is why it is important that persons who develop illness within 2-3 weeks of a tick bite see their doctor as soon as possible," said Needham.
For more information on ticks, and how to protect against tick-borne diseases, visit the Ohio Department of Health Zoonotic Disease Program website on tick-borne diseases at http://www.odh.ohio.gov/odhPrograms/dis/zoonoses/vbdp/vbtick.aspx and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Stop Ticks" website at http://www.cdc.gov/features/stopticks/.