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Watch out: Ticks aplenty this spring

I was out splitting and gathering firewood the other day in grass that was almost knee high.

I had already seen a number of ticks (more than usual) this spring, so I was expecting them, but I was astonished about how many there were crawling up my pant legs and arms. I would stop my task every 10 minutes or so and brush 6 or 8 of them off of my pant legs and another 3 or 4 off of my gloves and arms.

Ticks give me the creepy-crawlies (in fact I am heebie-jeebied out just writing about this). As it turns out, though, my fears are well founded. May is Lyme Disease Awareness month due to the increasing populations (and types) of irksome and dangerous ticks in Ohio.

“Ticks will be out looking for a blood meal,” said Glen Needham, an entomologist and tick expert with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the university’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. “We want people to understand there’s a risk of getting sick from tick bites when they are outdoors, and that there are things they can do to keep themselves, their families and their pets safe.”

Needham said Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged deer tick that are found primarily in wooded areas. These troublesome ticks are becoming more common.

“Blacklegged deer ticks have been found in 56 Ohio counties and are now likely established in 26 of those counties, mostly east of I-71 where we have deciduous forest,” Needham said.

By G. R. Needham, The Ohio State University.
By G. R. Needham, The Ohio State University.

“Most people who get Lyme disease will get it from the nymphal or juvenile stage of the blacklegged deer tick, which is very small, the size of a poppy seed, and is active in spring and summer.

“This makes it harder to identify and to know you may have been exposed to the disease.”

Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, headache, and muscle and joint aches. It also produces a distinctive large, circular red rash that looks like a bull’s-eye. If caught early, the disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Though not known to be fatal, the disease can progress to chronic arthritis, neurological symptoms and cardiac problems if left untreated.

In 2010, 43 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Health. That number grew to 50 in 2011 and 67 in 2012.

So, take time to prevent run-ins with ticks this spring. I am going to go reapply some DEET. Yikes!

More information about ticks and Lyme disease can be found at http://go.osu.edu/UgV and http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/.

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