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Ticks Making a Comeback

Posted: July 13, 2012

A resurgence in the tick population in Pennsylvania is resulting in an increased number of tick bites and Lyme disease cases.
Blacklegged tick, female (Steve Jacobs, Penn State)

Blacklegged tick, female (Steve Jacobs, Penn State)

Ticks can be dangerous, as they are the bearer of serious afflictions such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, there were about 23,000 cases of Lyme disease in the United States in 2010. Lyme disease, if not aggressively treated early in the infection, can result in severe, debilitating neurological symptoms. Steve Jacobs, extension entomologist at Penn State, says the black-legged tick (formerly called deer tick) is expanding its range and can now be found in most counties in Pennsylvania. Three areas of the state are heavily infested: 1. the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania (in those counties southeast of a line through Wayne to Adams counties); 2. the north central counties of Elk, Clearfield and Cameron; and 3. Presque Isle in Erie County. “Ticks are most often found in wooded areas or in tall grasses, but they can be transported by animals to other areas such as short grass fields, yards, shrubs and leaf litter on the ground,” says Jacobs. In Pennsylvania, tick populations are usually at their highest in May, June and July. This is also the time when the transmission of Lyme disease is the most significant, possibly because the life stage of the tick at this time is no bigger than a pinhead, making them difficult to see on the body. Jacobs says to avoid overgrown areas that can harbor ticks, and wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats when outdoors. Perform daily tick checks on children and yourself when returning inside. Check clothing and the body for ticks, especially in and around the hair. Other places tick are commonly found include under the arms, in and around the ears and hair, back of the knees, in the belly button, the groin area, and around the waist. If a tick is found, remove it as soon as possible with finetipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as you can and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t squeeze the tick’s body or try to jerk it off the skin. After removing the tick, wash the bite area with soap and water. Keep an eye out for symptoms of Lyme disease. The Center for Disease Control lists symptoms as chills, fever, headache, fatigue, skin rash, or a general ill feeling. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. For more information on these and other biting insects, go to the Pennsylvania IPM Program’s Pests and Public Health web site at http://extension.psu.edu/ipm/health.