Monday, May 6, 2013


    A relatively thin mast crop in years past has supported few rodents such as mice, and therefore has forced the persistent pests to seek other forms of nourishment—us.  

So no matter what you’re doing in the outdoors this spring and summer, knowing what to avoid, and a little about the animals themselves, will carry you safely through this year’s tick season.

    The four species of ticks found in Virginia are the lone star tick, the American dog tick, the deer tick, and the brown tick.  The lone star tick, named for the lone white spot in the center of its back, is the most common in our area; as it’s found predominately east of the Blue Ridge.  The American dog tick, identifiable by a pale spot just behind its head, is found predominately in the west.  Both the tiny deer tick and the reddish brown tick are less common, but can be found throughout the state.

    Perhaps what scares people the most about ticks is the threat of tick-transmitted diseases.  These are diseases that, as the name suggests, are transmitted by a bacteria carried by ticks.

    Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSP) is the most widespread of Virginia’s tick-transmitted diseases.  Both the lone star tick of the East and the American dog tick of the West are known to carry RMSF.  The tick must be attached to a host for four to six hours to inflict the disease.  Flu-like symptoms such as headache, muscle cramps, fatigue, and fever usually follow contraction by 2-12 days, which are in turn followed shortly by the appearance of an irritating red rash around the extremities.

    Virginia’s other tick-transmitted disease, lyme disease, seems to attract plenty of attention—some clearing up is in order.  The deer tick is the only tick in Virginia known to carry lyme disease, and is an uncommon species, found primarily in the northern and eastern reaches of our state.  The lone star tick, found in our area, has never been identified as a potential transmitter of the disease.  However, occasionally a victim of the lone star tick will develop a circular rash and flu-like symptoms consistent with lyme disease—but they have not contracted the disease.  Symptoms of lyme disease are similar to those associated with RMSF and are accompanied by a circular rash with a clear center at the site of the bite.  A carrying tick has to be attached for a period of 36 hours in order to transfer the disease.  Therefore, if you check yourself regularly for ticks as you should, it is very unlikely that you will contract the disease.

    While not every tick in Virginia carries harmful bacteria, anyone who has had the misfortune of contracting a tick-transmitted disease will tell you that any prevention steps you can take are well worth the effort.

    Ticks usually attach themselves to a host by waiting on the edges of low-growing vegetation until something brushes against them.  When possible, walk in the middle of a trail or road to avoid picking up any unwanted hitchhiker.

    Wear long, but light, clothing.  Tuck in your shirt if possible, and your pants into your socks or boots to minimize exposed areas of skin.  Wearing light colors like white not only makes it easier to spot ticks before they can attach themselves, but also keeps you a bit cooler in the brutal heat.

    Using insect repellent with 30-70% DEET can help significantly in warding off ticks.  Another option is to use products such as “Buzz Off” by Ex Officio that have built in and long lasting bug repellents.

    The final and most foolproof way to keep from being bitten by a tick is to check yourself regularly for them, if not while you’re in the field, always when you arrive home.  If you discover an attached tick during a tick check, remove the pest intact, making sure to remove the head from your skin, and wash the area thoroughly.  Most tick-transmitted diseases require the tick to be attached to a host for several hours.  So checking yourself for ticks regularly will make it very unlikely for you to fall sick.

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