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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Warm temps bring out ticks early, and these bloodsuckers don’t social distance

When temperatures spiked into the upper 70s in early April, grasses and clover hit a growth spurt, flowers bloomed and trees began to bud out.

Our early spring was welcomed during this mentally challenging time, but the fast warm-up brought ticks out a little earlier than normal. While doing yard work, bank fishing around ponds and streams, gardening, hunting wild turkeys or just taking the dog for a walk, be tick aware.

Blacklegged Tick (LymeDisease.org photo)

These bloodsuckers don’t practice social distancing.

A walk in the woods, or wading through chest-high dried grass and weeds at the wood’s edge, brushing up against low-hanging tree limbs or string trimming, is all it takes to pick up a tick.

Almost anywhere in rural Kentucky or along the suburban/rural interface where there are deer and high numbers of small mammals, ticks will be present.

Once they are on a host — human, a dog, or wildlife — ticks crawl around until they find a capillary close to the surface of the skin, painlessly pierce the skin and begin sucking blood.

Tick-Borne Diseases

A tick “bite” can be serious and lead to long-term health issues if not diagnosed and treated early, especially in humans.

Ticks can transmit a number of debilitating or potentially-deadly diseases to humans and pets. An article posted on the website www.lymedisease.org said tick-borne diseases represent a “growing public health threat that requires a strong national response that advances research to improve prevention, diagnostic testing and treatment.”

Lone Star Tick (CDC photo)

Symptoms of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases include sudden fever and rash, severe headache, muscle or joint aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Sometimes a red bulls-eye rash develops around the site where the tick was attached.

Diseases carried by ticks can be life-altering and include permanent neurological damage, profound fatigue, memory loss, and debilitating headaches.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists at least 13 diseases caused by ticks, with Lyme disease the most debilitating to humans. In the six-year period from 2013 to 2018, the CDC reported 66 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in humans in Kentucky, 594 in Indiana and 878 in Ohio.

Ticks in Kentucky

The tick species found throughout Kentucky inhabit a range of landscape types including woodlands, overgrown fields, croplands, riverine corridors and brushy areas.

The tick species include:

The American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is dark brown. Adult females have an off-white shield, while adult males look more mottled.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

This tick, found mostly in areas with little or no tree cover, such as grassy fields, brush at the wood’s edge, and along walkways and trails, can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia (rabbit fever), Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis.

The Lone Star Tick, Amblyomma americanum, is an aggressive little tick that is reddish-brown in color. The adult female, distinguished by a silvery-white dot on her back, can transmit several viruses, Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI), and cause some people to develop an allergy for red meat.

The Blacklegged Tick, Ixodes scapularis, is distinctive in coloration, with a reddish-orange body, black shield and dark black legs. One of the first ticks to emerge in the spring, the Blacklegged Tick has been expanding its range in the past 20 years and is the main vector of Lyme disease in North America.

In 2018 in the U.S., the CDC confirmed 23,558 cases of Lyme disease in humans, with another 10,108 probable cases.

The Blacklegged Tick can also transmit Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Powassan virus, which can cause a brain infection.

The Brown Dog Tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus, is reddish-brown, with a somewhat narrower body shape in comparison to other tick species.

Found worldwide, the Brown Dog Tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and several diseases specific to dogs.

Dogs are the primary host, and alarmingly this tick can live in and around homes with dogs, in dog beds and kennels, and can spend their entire life cycle indoors.

Dogs in Farm Country or Rural Suburbs Susceptible

Dogs in farm country or rural suburbs are especially susceptible to picking up a tick, and developing a tick-borne disease.

Don’t wait for warm weather, protect your dog as soon as winter ends.

Your veterinarian is a good source of information about the options of tick prevention treatments, which includes pills, chews, and liquids applied directly to the dog’s skin, on its back, between the shoulders.

I know firsthand the risk of waiting too long to treat a pet. Last spring I found an engorged tick my Jack Russell Bobbie. I removed it with tweezers, and soon after treated her with a flea and tick application.

But days later she developed a fever, pulled up lame, wouldn’t eat, and grew lethargic. I took her to the vet. He gave her a blood test and in minutes the diagnosis was Lyme disease. She recovered with a regimen of antibiotics within a few weeks.

I later found out that more dogs get tick-borne diseases than humans and full recovery is much higher in dogs than humans. In Lyme disease specifically, there are many more confirmed cases in dogs than humans in Kentucky.

According to data posted on the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) website www.capcvet.org Kentucky had 1,715 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in dogs in 2019, 5,149 confirmed cases of Ehrlichiosis and 213 confirmed cases of Anaplasmosis, all transmitted by ticks.

A good tick prevention option is Bravecto, a flavored chew made by Merck Animal Health. It is easy to administer and lasts for three months. Bravecto can be purchased directly from veterinarians or online if you provide your vet’s name and telephone number, so the web merchant can secure a prescription.

A three-month supply costs about $60.

If you protect your dog from ticks, you’re protecting your family too. This is because family pets, and hunting dogs with house privileges, can bring ticks indoors, onto carpets and bedding.

Treat Clothing To Repel Ticks

If you are going to be outdoors in tick country the best way to repel ticks, chiggers and mosquitos, is to treat clothing, boots and packs with the insecticide Permethrin.

Spray your clothing and gear, then hang outside to dry on a clothesline.

Permethrin should not be applied directly to the skin.

A popular and effective brand is Sawyer Permethrin Mosquito and Tick Repellent. It not only repels insects but kills ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, mites and other insects on contact.

The active ingredient, Permethrin, is a synthetic molecule similar to pyrethrum, which is taken from the chrysanthemum flower. The 24-ounce spray bottle costs about $20 and is enough to cover four full sets of clothing.

Ticks are creepy and dangerous. Keep your family and pets safe. Be tick aware. It’s tick season from now on until the onset of cold weather this fall.

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One Comment

  1. Vicki Petsy says:

    Thank you for being one of the only people that seems educated on ticks!! There are a couple veterinarians testing stray dogs and almost all of them are coming back positive for Lyme. My own Lyme doctor has also stated that almost everyone in KY has Lyme. They are being misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, arthritis, MS, Parkinsons, ALS… Lyme can cause or attribute to over 420 chronic diseases. There is always a cause. Treat the cause. I was even misdiagnosed with MS. It wasn’t MS. It was Lyme. After treating with a Lyme doctor, all my symptoms are gone.

    Vicki Petsy
    KY Lyme Disease Association

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