Many areas of the United States experienced a milder winter than normal. While snow haters rejoiced, the lack of brutally cold temperatures means that outdoor lovers have to be on guard this year, as the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is predicting an extremely heavy tick season.
What Causes This?
There are two factors that contribute to a tick season—the condition of the winter weather and the amount of acorns trees have produced. When winters are mild, ticks emerge earlier. This year, they were reported as early as mid-April, and are expected to get worse as the summer goes on.
What about the acorns? In 2010, oak trees in the United States produced an unusually large crop of acorns. This abundance of food led to a surge in the population of the white-footed mouse. This led to an increase in the population of the blacklegged (deer) tick, because when those ticks hatched, they had more mice to feed on than normal. This spring, the mice will be in short supply, due to a lack of food, so the ticks will be forced to find other food sources.
According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the U.S. The disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of the blacklegged tick. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. People who are treated with antibiotics in the early stages usually make a complete recovery. If it is not treated, Lyme disease can cause damage to the joints, nervous system and heart.
Lone Star tick bites can cause Alpha-gal syndrome, which is an allergy to red meat. When the Lone Star tick bites, it transmits a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into the body. In some cases, this triggers an immune response that varies case by case, from mild to severe.
The CDC has compiled a list of tips to follow to help prevent tick bites.
- Avoid walking in tall grass and dense vegetation.
- Walk in the middle of mowed trails to avoid brushing against anything.
- Cut your grass regularly, and thin any underbrush.
- Eliminate or seal places where small rodents live.
- Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks are easier to see.
- Wear long pants, and tuck your pant legs into socks and boots.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts buttoned at the wrists.
- Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks every 4 hours to 6 hours.
- Use a tick repellent that contains 30 percent DEET or 0.5 percent permethrin.
How to Remove a Tick
If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it as soon as possible. Use a set of tweezers.
- Grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.