Fighting ticks one tweezer pull at a time

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I hate ticks. Let me rephrase that: I loathe ticks with unending fury.

But I love hiking more in the hotter months than the cold, and that’s when you run into these little monsters. If you’re like me and you want to get out on the trails this summer, then you need to be prepared for tick bites, which have apparently gotten worse.

A recent report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that cases of disease from ticks have doubled in the United States from 2004 to 2016, and Virginia was in the top 20 percent among states for tick cases with more than 12,856 in that time span.

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Lyme disease is the first thing that comes to people’s minds when it comes to tick-borne diseases, but it’s not the only concern. There’s anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus, Tularemia and the better-known Rocky Mountain spotted fever that brings fatigue, headaches and muscle aches. Look up the others and you’ll find similar symptoms that are also potentially fatal if left untreated.

Brandon Jutras, a Lyme disease researcher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, said in a press release that rising temperatures have helped more ticks survive warm winters and that they are coming out earlier in the season.

He went on to correct some common misconceptions about ticks, like all of them being Lyme disease carriers. Deer ticks in the northeast, north-central and mid-Atlantic U.S. spread the disease, along with western blacklegged ticks on the Pacific coast, but many species don’t carry it. Virginia, however, has several other varieties of the buggers that have bites loaded with other diseased bacteria.

But there’s some good news. How long a tick is attached and feeding on a host’s body is a huge factor for disease transmission. Tick bacteria could need anywhere from 12 to 72 hours to be transmitted to said host, according to Virginia Tech VT press release.

These pin-sized pains aren’t just on trails. They’re found in the trees beside offices, in backyards and especially on people’s precious dogs, which are tick magnets. They love humidity and moisture, and they’re most active between May and August, according to a U.S. News & World Report story.

So, it’s time to prepare yourself. Treat your clothing with permethrin or repellents recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, like DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus, per U.S. News & World Report. Make sure your dogs are also covered with pup-friendly tick repellent.

Jutras also recommended using your dryer. Ticks can survive the washer and remain on clean clothes, but they can’t survive the heat of a dryer.

“If you have returned from a high-risk activity, like hiking or camping, be sure to use the dryer on all articles of clothing,” Jutras said in the VT release.

In a special to the Poughkeepsie Journal dubbed “Preventing tick diseases takes more than talk,” Bill Conners of the Federation of Fish and Game Clubs wrote his own advice and warnings on the issue after having both Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis…at the same time.

“It’s not hard to take the problem for granted,” wrote Conners. “We are being bombarded with news reports about Lyme disease and its variations. Don’t be cavalier. Exposure to one of these diseases can be life altering.

“In the event that you do get bit, see a doctor, especially if you start showing signs of a rash or start feeling unwell.”