By Dr. Charles Curie
The clinic phone rings…………………Hello………..Oh my gosh I woke up this morning and found ticks in my bed!!!!!!!!!!!!! How did they get there??? This is so disgusting!! Yuck, Ick….what can I do??
Yep we get those calls frequently. Ticks definitely have a big “Ick” factor. Ok so we all agree that ticks are totally gross. Besides being very good at creeping people out what true medical significance do they represent?
That’s the purpose of this series on ticks and tick borne diseases. We all need to be well-informed. Know thy enemy! Ticks are not only gross – they carry diseases like Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Babesiosis.
Yeah I know that you have probably never heard of most of these diseases but that is because they are spread by ticks and NE Ohio has been pretty much tick free…..until recently. Believe me you and your pets do not want any of these diseases!
I cannot explain why Ashtabula County had always been relatively tick free. The “experts” always thought I was simply stupid or incompetent when I would explain to them that our tick population was negligible to the point of almost nonexistent. To the bug guys this was absurd.
Well they didn’t live and practice veterinary medicine here. I am a lifelong resident of Ashtabula County and have spent most of my life in the outdoors as well as having practiced veterinary medicine here for 36 years. And I am telling you the number of ticks was simply irrelevant….. until a few years ago.
All that has changed in the last few years and now we are seeing a rapid explosion of ticks throughout the region. It began in the extreme north-east by Conneaut and now is basically everywhere.
The primary hosts for ticks are deer. One white tail deer can support enough tick reproduction to add 750,000 ticks to the environment next year. Enough said. They are carried around by birds. Birds are highly mobile and they migrate. Enough said.
We have identified several different types of ticks here. The black-legged tick or commonly called the deer tick, the Lone Star tick and the American Dog Tick are the most common. By far the dog tick is the one most commonly found by people. This is because they are present in large numbers and are quite big so people easily find them.
Let’s review some tick facts and fallacies.
Ticks are bugs. Bugs lay eggs (thousands of eggs) which hatch into larvae, which turn into young adults called nymphs which finally become adult ticks. This four stage life cycle can take up to 3 years to complete and involves a wide variety of hosts.
A host is the animal upon which the tick lives and feeds on their blood. The only thing ticks eat is blood. They are slow feeders and consequently stay attached to the host for long periods. The larvae, nymphs and adults are all blood feeders. They have an anesthetic in their mouth parts so the host doesn’t even feel the bite. Pretty treacherous isn’t it!
The larvae and nymphs prefer to feed on small mammals and birds. This may take two years. The nymph deer tick must feed on the white footed mouse in order to become infected with Lyme disease. We have these mice in NE Ohio. Sometimes they will also get on a larger mammal such as a dog or human. They are primarily responsible for spreading Lyme disease. These nymphs are very small and hard to see.
The adult ticks prefer large mammals such as deer, people etc. It is here that they complete their life cycle mating etc. and finally drop off to deposit eggs in the ground so the whole process can start over.
The American Dog Tick is the most common tick reported in Ohio. It is most active April through July is quite large and is responsible primarily for transmitting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I have personally had Spotted Fever and believe me you do not want it. I got from a tick bite in Southern Ohio many years ago.
The next most common tick in Ohio is the black-legged or deer tick. This is a very small but very dangerous tick which spreads Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrilichiosis and Babesiosis. Dogs and humans are most impacted by these diseases. I believe many more species are affected as well but we aren’t looking for it in other species.
As I have already said the larvae and nymphs prefer small mammals and birds but they are opportunist like all parasites and will feed on people, pets and livestock given the chance. The adults prefer to feed on large mammals like us, dogs and deer.
Even the adults are tiny and hard to see. The nymphs and larvae are even smaller. This makes it very unlikely that you will find them on heavy coated animals. They are hard enough to find on your own skin.
The larvae and nymph deer ticks are most active in the spring and early summer. The adults are active late summer and fall.
The Lone Star Tick is more common in southern Ohio but we are beginning to find them here as well. They are most active April through August and they transmit two diseases to pets and people. These are Ehrlichiosis and STARI (Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness). These ticks are relatively large like the American Dog Tick.
Myths and Facts
Myth: Ticks jump or fly.
Truth: Ticks are rarely found above your knees. They wait on grass or brush for a host to pass. Upon detecting the host body heat they wave their front legs around and grasp onto a hair or thread then climb on. Deer ticks do not have eyes………..so jumping is out of the question!
Myth: A hot match, fingernail polish, rubbing alcohol, or petroleum jelly will cause a tick to back out.
Truth: None of this works. They will only allow the tick to remain alive and attached longer increasing the risk of disease transmission.
Stay tuned for the next article about tick prevention.