Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Thick with ticks

Myths endure about tenacious pests

June 20, 2003


It's time to grab the tweezers.

This is the peak time of year for ticks, those tiny, tenacious parasites familiar to hikers, campers and pet-lovers. And the little bloodsuckers appear to be flourishing this season -- though the reason is a matter of scientific debate.

"There's probably a good chance that this is a banner tick year," said Greg Burg, a Kansas University biologist who studies tick populations in one of Lawrence's most tick-infested areas, "Dad" Perry Park in west-central Lawrence.

Burg takes a yearly census at the park of Kansas' most common tick species: Amblyomma americanum, the lone star tick. He said the tick population appeared much higher at the park this year than last year, though he didn't have official numbers ready.

And ticks are more than just pests. They also are notorious as carriers of serious diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever -- carried mainly by the American dog tick and Rocky Mountain wood tick -- and Lyme Disease, carried by deer ticks.

While the incidence of those diseases in Kansas is "extremely low," people should dress appropriately and use repellent when going into grassy areas, and check themselves thoroughly afterward, said Ludek Zurek, a medical entomologist at Kansas State University.

"If you remove ticks within 24 hours of attachment, the chance of transmission of a pathogen is pretty low," he said. "People should not panic when they find a tick on themselves. The best thing to remove them is just a tweezer or forceps -- no rotation, no turning, no Vaseline."

Tick myths abound

As with most natural maladies, there are many myths surrounding ticks. Using petroleum jelly, a lit cigarette or hot match to remove them are big ones, Zurek said. So is the idea that warm, wet springtime weather yields an abundance of the tiny parasites.

Ticks appear to be thriving in the warm and moist weather, and
hikers and campers should be aware of the bloodsucking parasites.
This engorged tick was picked off a pet at the Animal Hospital of
Lawrence, 701 Mich.

Ticks appear to be thriving in the warm and moist weather, and hikers and campers should be aware of the bloodsucking parasites. This engorged tick was picked off a pet at the Animal Hospital of Lawrence, 701 Mich.

Rainfall in Lawrence has been plentiful so far this month compared with last June, and average daily high temperatures for April and May were about 2 degrees higher than last year.

But Burg isn't convinced that what happens in the springtime will make or break his yearly tick count. A number of other factors -- such as winter weather, land use and the presence of other wild animals -- all have the potential to affect tick populations, he said.

Another popular theory is that as deer populations grow, the number of ticks also increases.

"Those kind of environmental conditions are a little more complicated than saying we've had a nice, wet spring, so the ticks are going to be high," Burg said. "It could be, but I'm a little leery of jumping on that bandwagon."

And because he's only sampled in a small area, Burg didn't have enough evidence to make a "blanket statement" that there are more ticks this year than in previous years.

Don't try telling that to Cain Mathis, a Topeka 8-year-old hiking Thursday afternoon at Clinton Lake State Park with about 30 other participants in Topeka Collegiate's summer science camp. After a hike a few days earlier in Topeka, Mathis had at least five ticks crawling on him.

"I even soaked myself thoroughly with bug spray," he said.

Science teacher Mary Baldwin had instructed the children to wear long pants and tucked-in shirts.

"We try to wear light-colored shirts. Then we can spot them, and we get them off before they ever attach," Baldwin said.

At the end of a two-hour hike Thursday, the group emerged with a combined total of about 30 ticks crawling on them, Baldwin said. None had attached.

"We did get quite a few ticks, but I'm not saying that it's more or less than any other years, because we always get ticks," she said.

Avoid getting ticks¢ Wear light-colored clothing. All tick species are dark enough that this will make seeing and removing them easier.¢ Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long-legged pants. Pull your socks over the bottom of the pants, wear the shirt tucked in, and fasten every button.¢ Apply repellent from shoes to knees: DEET (for skin or clothing) or permethrin (clothing only).¢ Don't let ticks remain on humans or pets for more than24 hours.After you've been out¢ Inspect shoes and clothing.¢ Shower as soon as possible, using your hands rather than a washcloth, backbrush or scrub ball of netting.¢ Check your back with a hand mirror or ask a family memberto check for you.To remove ticks¢ Research has found the safest way to remove the little bloodsuckers is to grip them as close to their head as possible -- preferably using tweezers or forceps at your skin level. Then gently and relentlessly pull straight away from your skin. Ticks will usually relax their hold within just a few seconds.¢ Disinfect the bite area.¢ If a tick breaks while you're trying to remove it and the mouthparts remain in your skin, your chances of getting a disease will be only slightly higher.¢ Symptoms of tick-borne diseases can include headache, lack of balance, nausea, extreme fatigue, skin rashes or fever.Source: K-State Extension

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