Hunters, campers and hikers should take special precautions in the woods this winter to avoid a newly problematic, winter-resilient tick breed that could transmit Lyme disease, according the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"We are trying to make the hunters aware that there are ticks in some of these areas and asking them to check their deer," said Lindsay Rist, wildlife communication specialist for ODNR.
Two other species of ticks commonly found in Ohio - the American dog tick and the lone star tick - are known to transmit Lyme disease. However, neither of these species have been found to be active in winter. So when Dr. Glen Needham, entomologist at The Ohio State University, got a call that a family in Coshocton County had found a tick on their clothing in January, his interest was piqued.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Glen Needham, The Ohio State University
This shows the newly prevalent, winter resilient blacklegged tick up close.
"Ohio is not supposed to have ticks in January. For this tick, they did not get the memo on good tick behavior," said Needham.
Needham traveled to the area and found an established population of blacklegged ticks. Since then, an additional 25 Ohio counties have added to the list of those with likely established populations.
For a county to be officially designated as such, they need to meet one of two criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The county needs to have turned in six blacklegged ticks or two blacklegged ticks in different life stages, said Needham.
This tiny, dark tick is one of three Lyme disease transmitting tick species found in Ohio
They are the only Lyme disease transmitting tick that is active in winter, posing a risk for hunters.
Only 35 were identified in the 20-year period between 1989 and 2008.
Since 2008 that number has been sharply on the rise, with 2,014 found in 2011 alone.
Before going outside, tuck in all clothing to minimize exposed skin.
Completely saturate clothing with a tick repellent containing permethrin, which dries odorless and lasts through approximately six washings.
Thoroughly check yourself and your pets for ticks after returning from outdoors.
Check that deer carcasses are free of ticks as soon as possible to avoid spreading the ticks to new locations.
If your pets spend time outdoors, talk to your veterinarian about possible tick repellents.
If sick, remember to tell your physician of possible exposure to ticks.
As part of an annual summary of tick-borne diseases compiled by the Ohio Department of Health in 2011, the department collected ticks from deer heads donated by hunters in 25 Ohio counties. That project identified 56 blacklegged ticks from Monroe County, 48 from Noble County, 16 from Morgan County and one from Athens County.
The ODH also collected and identified ticks submitted from various agencies and individuals. Only one blacklegged tick was identified from Washington County in 2011, not enough to qualify it as a county with a likely established population. But not officially qualifying does not mean the ticks are not here, said Needham.
"It seems to be in mostly rural areas. We are concerned about the hunters," he said.
Deer, which are harbingers for blacklegged ticks, are not affected by Lyme disease; however, humans and household pets can become very ill if infected. Furthermore, the disease is hard to diagnose if not spotted early, said Needham.
There were 53 cases of Lyme disease reported in Ohio in 2011 and 46 cases reported so far this year, said Lynn Denny, epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health.
There are several precautions that outdoorsmen and women can take to protect themselves this winter. To begin, it is important to make sure all clothing is snuggly tucked in. This will ensure that as little skin as possible is accessible, said Rist.
"Ticks are going to climb up from the bottom until they find skin. They do not drop off from tress," she added.
Additionally, a tick repellent containing permethrin can be purchased at most outdoors stores. The repellent should be used to saturate clothes and given time to dry. If applied sufficiently, the repellent should last through six wash cycles before needing to be reapplied. Once dry, the repellent is odor free and can not be detected deer, said Needham.
The ODNR also warns hunters to thoroughly check themselves, their pets and their deer carcasses carefully. Additionally, people spending a significant amount of time outdoors should familiarize themselves with the symptoms of Lyme disease.
The first symptom is a red rash that resembles a bullseye. Secondary symptoms include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches and possibly swollen lymph nodes, said Washington County Health Commissioner Kathleen Meckstroth.
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate help from a physician and should mention possible exposure to ticks, added Meckstroth.
As for furry companions, Needham recommends people consult with their veterinarians to determine what tick repellent products would be best and to get treatment for sick pets.
For more information on identifying, preventing, and removing ticks, visit ODNR's resource page at www.bit.ly/OHticks .