A mild winter has made Kentucky the perfect place for ticks to feast on their prey this summer.
The warmer weather allowed more ticks than normal to survive winter and has brought them out earlier in the year, said Lee Townsend, an extension entomologist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
“A warm spring can allow them to be active earlier than normal because they are cold-blooded,” Townsend said. “Their activity and metabolism increase as temperatures rise.”
Ticks thrive in outdoor grassy and wooded areas, commonly found in uncut fields with tall vegetation and forests. Walking through these places without the proper clothing and repellent make you an easy target for ticks. When on the skin, ticks cut into their prey, feeding on blood to continue their life cycle.
Although ticks are numerous this year, some hikers at McConnell Springs and Raven Run Nature Sanctuary in Lexington Friday said they were taking their chances without applying repellant.
McConnell Springs Park Manager Steven Rogers said as long as hikers stay on a trail they should have minimal contact with ticks.
“We haven’t taken any measures to really promote the increase in ticks just because we actually don’t see a significant amount of ticks here in the park,” Rogers said.
The American dog tick and the lone star tick are the two most common types in Kentucky. The female lone star tick can be recognized by the noticeable white spot on its back, whereas the male is completely reddish-brown. The American dog tick can be identified by the white markings on the back of its reddish-brown body.
Tick bites cause itchiness, and scratching the affected area can result in infection.
“Scratching bites can result in serious symptoms of tick bite infection,” Townsend said. “There usually is a red bump at the site of a bite that may feel warm and tender when touched.”
Both types of ticks can carry diseases that can be transferred to a human or animal with just one bite.
Lone star ticks may carry ehrlichiosis, a bacterial disease that causes flu-like symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky is among the states with the highest incidence rates of ehrlichiosis, ranging from 3.3 to 26 cases per million persons.
The American dog tick is a carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a potentially fatal human disease in North and South America, according the CDC. Symptoms include a fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting and muscle pain, and should be treated within the first few days of symptom development.
Lyme disease is another potentially fatal illness transmitted by ticks.
According to data from the CDC, Kentucky reported and confirmed 80 cases of Lyme disease between 2005 and 2015.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and erythema migrans, a skin rash. Untreated, this disease may spread to joints, the heart and nervous system.
A new tick-borne virus more serious than Lyme disease might also be emerging in the U.S., according to the CDC.
The symptoms of Powassan virus include a fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss, according to the CDC. It can cause permanent damage to the body and in severe cases lead to death.
Seventy-five cases of Powassan disease were recorded in the U.S. between 2006 and 2015, according to the CDC.
Walking through tall grass in Kentucky isn’t advised unless you are wearing the proper attire and insect repellent.
“Ticks seem to attach where clothing is tighter — around the waist band — or in skin folds or more protected areas — underarms, groin area, behind the knee, nape of the neck,” Townsend said.
If a tick is found on the body, it should be removed using fine-tipped tweezers. Make sure you get the tweezers as close to the skin as you can to remove the entire tick.
After removal, wash the affected area and apply an antiseptic. Dispose of the tick and keep an eye out for infection or symptoms of any tick-related illnesses.
Paidin Dermody: 859-231-3335
Steps to prevent tick bites
▪ Avoid walking through fields and forests with uncut grass and uncleared areas. When hiking, stay on marked trails.
▪ If you are outdoors in tall grass or in wooded areas, wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks. Light-colored clothing can also make ticks more visible.
▪ Pets are easy targets for ticks, so make sure to check animals when letting them back inside.
▪ Check yourself and others if you know you are in a tick-prone area.