Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beware of Ticks!

This tick season is setting up to be one of the worst. Servall Termite & Pest Control wants you to be prepared, this article from the Chicago Tribune talks more in depth about the tick problem we are about to see this summer. 
Rich Witkiewicz arrived home Feb. 2 from a trip to the Palos Forest Preserve in Willow Springs and discovered he brought an unexpected, unwanted piece of nature with him.

Embedded in the right forearm of the avid hiker and nature photographer was a black-legged deer tick.

A hike leader for the Sierra Club Chicago chapter, Witkiewicz has seen his share of ticks, but never in February.

"I've had previous bites (in other years), but they were not that early — not supposedly in winter," he said.

Witkiewicz's story confirms what entomologists and ecologists are saying. The drawback to our mild winter and early, unusually warm spring is that ticks — those tiny, potentially dangerous creatures — have come out early. They are hungry for blood and there could be a lot of them.

Generally ticks spend winter in a leaflet but come out of dormancy in temperatures ranging from 45 to 80 degrees, said Tom Velat, insect ecologist with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

"We have personally seen that the ticks usually out in the beginning of April were out as early as January this year," Velat said.

Witkiewicz, of the Southwest Side, was wearing a long-sleeve shirt and gloves Feb. 2 (a 44-degree day) but he had been off the trail, taking photos and picking up garbage. It was his third straight day in the preserve and he suspects the tick might have attached to him on one of the first two days.

Because the tick was the size of a sesame seed, he didn't see it until he felt it. And it felt like a pinprick, he said.

"I know about ticks because I'm into the nature stuff. If you're on the trail, you're fine," said Witkiewicz. "But if you're off the trail or in the brush, you need to do a thorough check of yourself and have a friend check your back. I think this one must have got between the cuff of my shirt and the glove."

There are at least 15 species of ticks, and the two most common in northern Illinois are the American dog tick, also known as the wood tick, and the black-legged deer tick. American dog ticks are generally the most frequently encountered throughout Illinois and are also the primary carrier of the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Rocky Mountain fever actually shows up more in non-Rocky Mountain states and occurs throughout Illinois, more commonly in the south and central parts of the state. It is marked by the sudden onset of moderate to high fever.

Deer ticks can carry the bacteria that transmits Lyme disease. Lyme can be cured by antibiotics in the early stages but untreated it can lead to complications involving the joints, heart and nervous system.

"What people need to know is that in general ticks can transmit pathogens, but we can protect ourselves," said Velat, who has been out collecting deer ticks for a research project at theUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

If a tick is on your scalp...

A little bit of science: Ticks survive and thrive on blood meals from mammals and rely on that blood to evolve. The ticks generally begin feeding on small rodents, particularly the white-footed mouse for the deer tick, and then move to other small mammals, deer and possibly people. They are technically not insects. Eight-legged creatures, they are arachnids like spiders and mites. They do not fly or jump. They crawl and are usually found in low vegetation, ankle-high grass and twigs, said Linn Haramis, entomologist for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Some good news: Ticks do not drop out of trees onto your head.

Some bad news: If a tick is on your scalp, it most likely managed to crawl up your body after catching a ride. Ticks like to travel upward.

Scientists know that ticks are active and early to the dinner table this year. But will there be more than usual? Velat said there may be more because the hatching eggs have not had to contend with harsh weather. That may mean more ticks again next year because ticks have a two-year life span.

Jerry Stoeckigt, of Aurora, executive director of the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers, said organization members who maintain and build bike trails through the woods encountered ticks earlier this year, and bikers with dogs have been pulling ticks off the animals.
 
"We're not usually fighting them this early, but one guy got two ticks the other day," he said.

"The mosquitoes have been out too," Stoeckigt said. "They were bad when we had that warm stretch of weather. I've swallowed a few this year already. It happens, just usually not this early."

How much of this will continue depends on the weather, which we know is unpredictable beyond 10 days, Haramis said. A late spring freeze could change the picture for insects. A hot and dry summer could shut them down.

Haramis said ticks have sticky pads on their feet that allow them to grab on to humans and other mammals. They often hang out in the brush along deer trails and footpaths and hop on when they detect the carbon dioxide from a mammal's respiration. If we have a wet spell, fewer people will be out to get bit, and the "glue" on their feet won't work as well.

Don Orton, of Wheaton, author of "Coincide: The Orton System of Pest and Disease Management," reports that plants are conservatively four or five weeks ahead of schedule this year and pests are following suit.

"Things that often happen here in May were happening in March," he said. "The arrival of pests continues to correlate with the blossoming of plants. The spring we have is like going south and east a couple hundred miles."

The role acorns play

Missy Henriksen, spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association, said acorns are to blame for what they believe will be large numbers of black-legged deer ticks this summer. A prolific acorn crop in 2010 caused a boom in the white-footed mouse population last year. More ticks survived, and so more will be looking to other mammals for their blood supply this summer, she said.

"The whole cycle of life is what's causing what is suspected to be one of the worst times for ticks," she said. "People are putting on sun protection, but not always thinking about insect repellent. "

Velat said the white-footed mouse is the primary host for the black-legged deer tick and also the carrier of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Last year there were 192 reported cases of Lyme disease in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. In 2000, there were 35 cases.

A tick bite does not always result in disease but the less time the tick is on you the better. Scientists encourage early detection by doing a tick check when you come inside. According to Velat, it takes at least 24 hours for the tick to literally sink his minuscule teeth into you and prepare the bite site for fluid transmission.
This tick season will be the worst we've seen in many years, Servall Termite & Pest Control wants you to be prepared. Ticks can carry diseases and it is always a good idea to check yourself if you've been out in the woods. This article from the Chicago Tribune gives great information about ticks this year.
 
Veterinarian Kathleen Heneghan, public education chair for the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association in Burr Ridge, said veterinarians typically begin educating pet owners about ticks in early April, but they sprung into action when they heard of ticks on dogs in early March.

"Based on the early onset of spring it appears it will be a worse than usual parasite — fleas, ticks, heartworm — and allergy season for our four-legged friends," she said.

"We're seeing more allergies, more itchy feet, skin lesions, parasites. There are a lot of miserable pets already."

She encourages pet owners to consult their vet about heartworm medicine and topical medicines for fleas and ticks, and the Lyme disease vaccine.

Many pet owners assume they don't need to worry about parasites if their pet never leaves the yard. But other critters visit at night, even if you have a fence, Heneghan said. "You know how your pet likes to detect those nooks and crannies where other animals have been," she said.

If you find a tick on you or your pet? Experts say use a fine-tipped tweezers to slowly and steadily pull it straight up and out. Drop it in alcohol or flush it down the toilet. Wash your hands and the bite site with soap and water.

Witkiewicz used tweezers in February and killed the tick in the process. He disposed of it in garbage that he soon removed from the house. If he finds a tick on him in the woods, he will flick it onto a leaf and smash it with a rock.

Not sure what kind of tick you found? Check http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/tickkey.htm for information. Illinois residents can also mail the dead tick in a leakproof container such as a vial or medicine bottle with alcohol to the department for identification. It will not be tested for pathogens such as Lyme disease.

Haramis said last year they received 10 to 20 dead ticks a week in the mail.

Remember to check yourself when you spend time in the woods. The diseases some ticks can carry can turn serious if not caught. Visit www.servallpestcontrol.com for more information on our services. Don't let a pest problem get out of hand, let Servall help!

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