There are a lot more ticks than normal this year in the USA, and they’re appearing a lot earlier than normal. You probably know the reason: tick populations have increased significantly and early due to the record warm weather this past winter and spring. Ticks apparently have few, if any, natural enemies, and their populations are normally controlled by cold weather killing them off. And since there was very little cold weather this past season, in some areas of the country populations have increased by several hundred percent.
This should be of concern to everyone, whether you own dogs or other pets or not. But, if you do own dogs, you must be especially vigilant, since dogs are a favorite for ticks to latch onto.
More Ticks Than Normal This Year
Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease are two of the most serious illnesses that ticks can cause, and the targets for these pesky pests aren’t just your kids, but also you, your dogs, and other pets. So far, Tennessee has had an increase of 533% for Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases over last year. Ringgold, Chattanooga and Cleveland also have experienced tick increases this spring. Many families with kids and dogs are having trouble going outside due to the sudden tick invasion.
Tick-borne illnesses can develop once someone has been bitten by ticks. Fortunately, only about 3 to 5% of the ticks are carriers. At times, these illnesses can have similar signs and symptoms, making them a bit hard to distinguish from one another. Fever and Lyme disease can occur after a week or so. Headaches, muscle aches and fatigue can also be present. Rashes can also appear due to the Lyme disease. Other illnesses that can occur are ehrlichiosis, tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by Rickettsia rickettsii, a type of bacteria. This disease is the most common tick-borne illness in Tennessee, and is usually carried by American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, and brown dog ticks. The disease causes headache, fever, muscle pain, vomiting, abdominal pain, and sometimes rashes. The most common medicinal treatment for it is Doxycycline, which is more effective when administered before the fifth day of the illness.
So what is the cause of this sudden burst of ticks? Well, according to experts, it is most likely due to the warm winter and unusually warm spring. There were no deep freezes back then, and the warmer temperature brought the ticks outside earlier than they should be. Hamilton County’s Extension agent for University of Tennessee, Tom Stebbins, also confirms the sudden increase of ticks in their region, and also blames it on the warm winter.
And it is not just Tennessee that had many cases of tick-borne illnesses in the past – Oklahoma, North Carolina, Missouri and Arkansas also had many Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases. Putting the five states together makes the 60% of all the cases in the United States so far this year.
Despite the outbreaks, people and pets need not worry, because ticks and tick-borne illnesses can be prevented and cured. If you or Fido should have a tick attach to you, follow these instructions from the CDC.gov site:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t 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, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.
To avoid tick bites, cleanliness is the key. Use tick repellents and sprays as you go. Wearing light-colored shirts and dresses can also help you easily spot the pests once they’re on you. For dogs, regular grooming and cleaning is very important, especially if your children love playing with them. Since canines are the most probable targets of ticks, it is important to put their hygiene in top priority so that the kids (and the adults as well) don’t catch tick bites. If your dog has been in areas that may harbor ticks, check them closely when they come back.
So even though there are more ticks than normal this year, proper precautions will keep you safe.