Health Department urges residents to be aware of ticks

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A deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, on a fingertip

HARRISON COUNTY – “This isn’t the tick we grew up with. There is no off season for this Lyme Disease carrying pest” cautions Health Department Administrator Garen Rhome. “As the black-legged ‘deer’ tick population continues to move from the north-east across Ohio, it brings with it the potential for increased tick bites and higher numbers of Lyme disease infections in Harrison County.”

Fall is a time when many people let their guard down when it comes to insects and outdoor pests. After all, this is the time when mosquitoes disappear, flies vanish, and most insects either die off or find a warm hole to hibernate and wait out the cold. But deer ticks are different. For one thing, they’re arachnids and not insects. And not only do they not hide away during fall and winter, October is the month when mature deer ticks are at their most active.

While the first frost of the year makes many tick species huddle near the ground for warmth, deer ticks will look for hosts on any day when the temperature is above freezing. The Deer tick has a delicate and specific two year life cycle as it grows through life stages and interacts with other animals. This life cycle, unfortunately, also ensures the continued proliferation of Lyme disease causing bacteria.

Currently, this year’s new larvae are feeding on birds, rodents, and other small mammals. From these tiny animal hosts is where the deer tick first becomes infected with Lyme. Meanwhile, infected adults in their second year of life are quite active and looking for a host. These adults actively seek new hosts throughout the fall, waiting up to 3 feet above the ground on stalks of grass or leaf tips to latch onto deer (its preferred host) or other larger mammals like humans, dogs, cats, horses, and other domestic animals. Peak activity for adult deer ticks occurs in late October and early November. “The adult ticks are what you’re looking for this time of year. Thankfully, they’re easier to spot on your body than the spring nymphs, which makes Lyme transmission to humans decrease in the fall. We see or feel the adult tick and remove it rather quickly. Checking pets is especially important, though, because the adult ticks are still active and looking for a host. Your dog or cat can easily bring the adult ticks into your home” Rhome said.

In the spring, adult females will lay the eggs of a new generation and the larvae infected last fall turn into tiny nymphs, ready for another blood meal on deer, pets, and people. The cycle continues. “After a significant increase in reported Lyme cases in 2017, we’ve seen a downturn throughout 2018 here in Harrison County. We like to think that county residents are more aware of the presence of black-legged deer ticks and more knowledgeable on what to look for, leading to fewer tick bites and tick-borne illnesses like Lyme” Rhome concluded. “These deer ticks are here to stay.”

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