By Mary Beth Sallee
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
It’s that time of year again. Beautiful sunshine, warmer weather, and flowers blooming. But just as spring is underway, so is tick season.
What are ticks?
Ticks are the disease-spreading parasites that not only are an irritating nuisance but also the cause of several illnesses and diseases.
According to the University of Kentucky Entomology website, there are over 700 species of ticks worldwide. However, there are specific species of ticks that are often found in Kentucky.
- American Dog Tick – This species is mostly active from March through September and can be found in fields, meadows, and along forest and trail edges. The tick can spread diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Tularemia.
- Brown Dog Tick – This tick can carry and transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and others illnesses. Unlike other ticks, the brown dog tick can survive its entire life indoors. Dogs are the preferred hosts for this species, and can enter your home via your furry, four-legged friends. If the tick has not latched on to your pet, it can fall off and survive in your house, looking for a host.
- Deer Tick – The deer tick is also known as the black-legged tick. It can be found year-round mostly in forested areas. This species can carry and transmit the illnesses of Lyme disease, the Powassan virus, Relapsing Fever, and Anaplasmosis.
- Lone Star Tick – Usually around from March through September, this species can be found in woodland areas, as well as open areas that have dense vegetation. These ticks carry the diseases of alpha-gal, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, STARI, the Heartland Virus, and more. Lone star ticks are active questers, which means they will actually chase their host. This species is present in large numbers and very common across Kentucky.
- Asian Longhorned Tick – It is often found in fields and wooded areas. This species is parthenogenic, meaning that females can reproduce with no mate. The Asian longhorned tick is also the first invasive tick species known in America.
- Gulf Coast Tick – It can carry the disease of R. parkeri, which is another form of spotted fever. The gulf coast tick can often be found in meadows and tall grass.
Ticks are responsible for transmitting pathogens that induce a variety of diseases and illnesses, including Lyme disease, alpha-gal red meat allergy, Ehrliciosis, spotted fever rickettsiosis, Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Heartland virus, and babesiosis, among others.
In Lyme disease, a characteristic bulls-eye rash may accompany flu-like symptoms. If not treated, Lyme disease can spread to the heart, nervous system, and joints.
STARI produces flu-like symptoms as well, which include headache, fever, fatigue, and joint pain, as well as a rash similar to that of Lyme disease. However, STARI differs from Lyme disease in the fact that, unlike Lyme disease, STARI has not been linked to chronic joint, neurological, or cardiac symptoms. This disease is mostly found in areas where the lone star tick is common.
Alpha-gal is known as the red meat allergy, an illness caused by the passing of a sugar molecule from a lone star tick to its host. This allergy may appear as an anaphylactic reaction such as swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, dizziness, shortness of breath, or as a skin rash after eating beef, lamb, or pork.
Spotted fevers, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), are bacterial diseases that can be transmitted by infected American dog ticks. Symptoms may include ever, abdominal pain, headache, muscle pain, and vomiting. In some cases, a rash may also develop. If not treated within the first few days of symptoms, RMSF can become severe and even fatal.
Although it is now the season to spend lots of time outdoors, it is also important to make sure that tick protection is practiced. Prevention remains the most effective method in protecting yourself, your children, and your pets from ticks.
- Wear long sleeves and pants outdoors.
- Tuck pant legs into socks, which cuts off one of the ways ticks can access your body.
- Use skin-based repellents like DEET (at least 20-30%), picaridin, or lemon-eucalyptus oil. As always, follow the instructions/information listed on the repellent label.
- Check yourself and pets for ticks after being outside for any amount of time.
- Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails, and avoid dense woods and bushy areas.
- Shower or bathe as soon as possible after returning indoors as a way to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be on you.
- Consult a veterinarian on products that can be used to control ticks on pets.
For more information about ticks and tick-related diseases, visit the University of Kentucky Entomology and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife websites.