Tick season is upon us in northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana. In fact, I have spoken to several people who have found more ticks already this year than in years past.
I have found countless ticks on people in my volunteer work as the health officer at a Boy Scout camp. The most common tick that I have seen in this geographic area over the past 30 years is the American dog tick, also called the wood tick. This tick is brown with white markings on its back, measuring about a quarter-inch to a half-inch in size.
You are most likely to encounter ticks in tall grass. The tick climbs on as you pass by, then it crawls around until it finds a suitable spot to embed itself (usually this occurs within the first couple hours or so). The tick then uses an anesthetic in its saliva so that you cannot feel it embedding its mouth parts, and it produces a sort of cement to latch on as it sucks blood until it is full. At that point, it detaches. The tick's saliva, which can be shared with the host during feeding, contains the pathogens that cause tick-borne illness. The spread of pathogens generally occurs after the tick is embedded for 24 hours.
Fortunately, despite the prevalence of ticks, we have a low incidence of tick-borne illness in this part of the country. The dog tick can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, although these diseases are not commonly seen in our area. The dog tick does not transmit Lyme disease – Lyme disease is carried primarily by the deer tick, which is smaller and darker. Symptoms of infection following a tick bite include fever, aches and pains and rash. You should call your primary care physician if you develop symptoms of infection.
You can prevent getting "bitten" by ticks by using repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET, wearing long pants (as well as long sleeves and hats) and checking for ticks after being outdoors. If a tick becomes embedded in the skin, you should remove it using tweezers to grasp the tick close to the mouth parts (as near the surface of the skin as possible) and applying a firm, steady pressure (no jerking) until the tick is completely removed. You can tell when it's fully removed because you'll see what appears to be a small piece of skin in the mouth parts (this is actually the cement that holds the tick on the skin). Clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water. If you are concerned about contracting a tick-borne illness, you can save the tick and bring it (alive) to the local health department for testing. To preserve the live tick for testing, you might put it in a ziplock bag, wrapped in a damp paper towel. You should check with the health department in your area before you go there to make sure tick testing is available.
I recommend you check out the Centers for Disease Control website if you want more info on ticks and tick-borne illness. There are also good photos and more info at www.tickinfo.com, and a nice tick identification chart at www.tickencounter.org/tick_identification.
Don't let ticks put a damper on your outdoor activities. Use the preventive measures described here, be vigilant about ticks, and watch for signs of infection if bitten.