It is August and it is the time when a new generation of deer ticks is hatching. This species of tick is common in Nebraska and known to carry Lyme disease. Lyme disease is probably most commonly associated with ticks along with Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
We have had a near-perfect weather pattern for ticks this summer. I have had a couple people who have been out doing some pre-season scouting tell me the ticks are thick! In the tall grass of parks, at the edge of your lawn and along almost any hiking trail, ticks lurk. The young ticks that are hatching now are looking their first blood meal. If you are outside and off a manicured lawn, you may be it!
Health officials are warning that ticks and tick-borne diseases could be almost epidemic in 2017, but why are ticks so bad this year? According to the CDC, there are numerous reasons for a rise in tick activity and a subsequent increase in diseases and infections caused by the blood-sucking little critters. However, this year’s increase is primarily being blamed on a mild winter, warm summer and rains at the right time.
“Tick-borne diseases are a very serious problem, and they’re on the rise,” said Rebecca Eisen, a research biologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Even though you may live in an area where you didn’t have ticks in the past or your parents don’t remember having ticks, the distribution is changing and more people are at risk.”
With urban expansion and a push to conserve wooded areas, deer and mice populations are thriving. Both of these species provide ample blood meals for ticks and help spread tick populations.
As stated earlier, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, may be the tick-borne diseases that people think of most often when the topic of ticks comes up, but there are many more. Tularemia, ehrlichiosis, relapsing fever, anaplasmosis, heartland virus, bourbon virus and one of the “newest” threats on the scene, the Powassan virus are all potential problems.
With Lyme disease, cases in the United States numbered about 12,000 annually in 1995 but jumped to some 40,000 by 2015. Experts say the real number of infections is probably closer to 300,000 nationally.
There are a couple of interesting scientific studies going on right now. One study is looking at how mice populations can affect the spread of ticks. Mice act as hosts for ticks and as mice move to different places, so do ticks.
The second study is looking at how natural predators, like coyotes and foxes, can break the spread of ticks. The study suggests that a rise in tick-borne diseases may be linked to a lack of natural predators. Fewer mice/rodents means that larval ticks, which are always born uninfected, would feed on other mammals and bird species and not carry tick-borne viruses harmful to humans. It could also be that a larval tick simply fails to find that first meal and dies. Ticks need three meals to reproduce. Humans are at risk of contracting diseases only from ticks that have previously fed on infected hosts. No infected host means the disease stops in its tracks.
“The predators appear to break the cycle of infection,’’ said Dr. Tim R. Hofmeester, who was a graduate student at Wageningen University in the Netherlands during this study and earned his Ph.D. after the study’s conclusion.
According to the CDC, there are several precautions you can take to reduce the possibility of being bitten by a tick and contracting a tick-borne disease or infection. Avoiding areas with heavy brush or high grass are a good start, according to the CDC. Using an insect repellent on clothing, gear, and exposed skin is another precaution you can take. Products containing roughly 30 percent DEET or picaridin, are very effective at repelling ticks.
The CDC also recommends conducting a thorough “full-body” check for ticks after spending time outdoors. Put your gear and clothing in a hot dryer to kill any ticks that may be attached.
The most common symptoms of tick-related disease or infection include aches and pains, particularly at the joints. Chills, fever, and an otherwise unexplained rash can also develop. The rashes, in particular, are distinct and often appear in a “bullseye” pattern around the site of the bite. Anyone experiencing symptoms related to a suspected tick bite is encouraged to seek immediate medical attention.
One more note about the Powassan virus, mentioned above…it is rare but seven to ten new cases are diagnosed each year. Powassan virus can cause permanent brain damage or death. While other tick-borne diseases require the tick to be on you for 24 to 36 hours, Powassan virus can be passed from an infected tick to a human in just 15 minutes.
Be careful out there.