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Ticks are 'rapidly expanding' in Ohio, and more bad news about the disease-toting bloodsuckers

tick on a leaf
James Gathany/AP
/
U.S. Centers for Disease Control
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, a carrier of Lyme disease. (CDC via AP, File)

Ticks: everyone is talking about them it seems. The blood-sucking disease carriers have invited themselves to the spring party and we humans are not amused.

"Ticks get a little worse, it seems every year," says Tim McDermott, DVM, agriculture and natural resources educator with the Franklin County Office of OSU Extension, and a veterinarian.

"What we've had here in Ohio is a rapid expansion of the number of ticks of medical importance for humans, companion animals and livestock, going from one about 15 (to) 20 years ago ... to five now, including two new ones in the last couple of years."

The five species of ticks in Ohio are the American dog tick; the blacklegged tick, aka the deer tick; the lone star tick; the Gulf Coast tick; and the Asian longhorned tick.

RELATED: Ticks! Ick! The latest science on the red meat allergy caused by some tick bites

Cases of the Gulf Coast tick were confirmed in Hamilton and Butler counties in 2020. There are now established colonies of it across Southwest Ohio.

Hooray?

Here comes some more bad news. A lot of the things you may think about ticks is probably wrong or no longer the case.

McDermott outlines a handful of myths about these bacteria and pathogen spreaders, and his recommendations for "an integrated pest management approach to keeping yourself, your family, and your animals tick safe."

Myth 1: Ticks are only present in the woods

Gone are the days of thinking you only had to worry about ticks while hiking or out in the country.

"You can encounter a tick in about any habitat, including just your backyard lawn," says McDermott.

Myth 2: Ticks are only active in the summer

Ticks are certainly more active in the warmer months, but McDermott notes you can encounter a tick "any place at about any time."

"We have positive cases of tick disease every month of the year in Ohio," he says.

Myth 3: A tick needs to be on you feeding for a full day in order to spread disease

"We're finding that it's really more complex in that there's lots of variables: the different ticks; the life cycles that they're in at the time; the different diseases that they can vector. I tell folks, you don't want to get bit by a tick at all, ever."

Awareness is key

The best way to avoid ticks is to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions. Always check carefully for ticks on humans and pets after being in potentially tick-heavy habitats.

If you're at a park, stick to the middle of the walking path and don't wander into the woods. Make sure your pets are up-to-date on flea and tick medications or preventives.

Wear long pants and use an insect repellent or bug spray. Light-colored clothing is recommended to make it easier to spot the annoying hitchhikers. McDermott recommends buying clothing, or treating your clothing yourself, with permethrin, an insecticide that repels ticks and other insects like mosquitos.

Be sure to wash permethrin-treated clothing separately from your other laundry, read the product's label and it'sbest to keep pets — especially cats — away when spraying permethrin.

Pest control companies like those that spray for mosquitos tend to use synthetic forms of pyrethrins called pyrethroids. These kill on contact. Some also create a barrier meant to repel insects.

McDermott says to keep in mind that ticks are highly mobile, traveling on wildlife.

"If you treat your yard, don't expect that yard to be treated for very long, depending on where you live and what kind of animals (are) crossing that habitat," he says.

Ticks are more likely to be on the edges of woody backyards or around trees, rather in than, say, in the middle of a sunny grassy yard.

RELATED: It's tick season. Here's how to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors

Ew! Get it off of me!

If you find a tick on your skin, you want to remove it as soon as possible. However, there is a right way to do so.

  • Use tweezers or a pointy tick tool to grab the tick all the way down where the mouth part is embedded in the skin.
  • Grab it by the head and use firm, upward pressure so you get the entire tick.
  • Do not just grab and squeeze because you might not get the whole thing and McDermott warns you'll probably squeeze the tick's gut contents into your body, which could make you sicker if the tick is carrying a disease.
  • Another good method, according to Dr. Sean McNeeley, medical director of University Hospital’s Urgent Care network in Cleveland, is using a credit card or anything with a flat surface to push the tick off.
  • Wash your hands and the bite location once removed.
  • Preserve the tick in a sealed bag. McDermott says hand sanitizer is a good medium to preserve a tick.
  • Monitor for symptoms of Lyme disease — including fever, circular rashes and muscle or joint pain — and other tickborne illnesses for the next few weeks.
  • Contact your physician if you have symptoms or any concerns.
  • You can also submit the tick for identification at some public health organizations. There are also labs that can test the offending tick for pathogens.
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Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.