Fall and Winter Warning about Blacklegged Ticks

An earlier post, Top 10 things RVers Should Know about Ticks, stressed the fact that ticks can be active even in the winter.

Blacklegged ticks or Deer ticks. (Credit: tickencounter.org)

Blacklegged ticks or Deer ticks. (Credit: tickencounter.org)

That’s right! Adult stage blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) become active every year after the first frost.

They’re not killed by freezing temperatures, and while other ticks enter a feeding diapause as day-lengths get shorter, deer ticks will be active any winter day that the ground is not snow-covered or frozen. This surprises people, especially during a January thaw or early spring day.

Remember this fact and hopefully you’ll never be caught off-guard.

Campers, hikers, and hunters should take special precautions in the woods during fall and winter to avoid this winter-resilient tick that transmits Lyme disease, according the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

“We are trying to make the hunters aware that there are ticks in some of these areas and asking them to check their deer,” said Lindsay Rist, wildlife communication specialist for ODNR.

Two other species of ticks commonly found in Ohio—the American dog tick and the lone star tick—are known to transmit Lyme disease. However, neither of these species has been found to be active in winter.

When Dr. Glen Needham, entomologist at The Ohio State University, received a call that a family in Coshocton County had found a tick on their clothing in January, his interest was piqued.

Winter resilient blacklegged tick. (Courtesy: Dr. Glen Needham, OSU)

Winter resilient blacklegged tick. (Courtesy: Dr. Glen Needham, OSU)

“Ohio is not supposed to have ticks in January. For this tick, they did not get the memo on good tick behavior,” said Needham.

Needham traveled to the area and found an established population of blacklegged ticks. Since then, an additional 25 Ohio counties have added to the list of those with likely established populations.

For a county to be officially designated as such, they need to meet one of two criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The county needs to have turned in six blacklegged ticks or two blacklegged ticks in different life stages, said Needham.

As part of an annual summary of tick-borne diseases compiled by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) in 2011, the department collected ticks from deer heads donated by hunters in 25 Ohio counties. That project identified 56 blacklegged ticks from Monroe County, 48 from Noble County, 16 from Morgan County, and one from Athens County.

The ODH also collected and identified ticks submitted from various agencies and individuals. Only one blacklegged tick was identified from Washington County in 2011, not enough to qualify it as a county with a likely established population. But not officially qualifying does not mean the ticks are not here, said Needham.

Fact Box

Blacklegged or deer tick

This tiny, dark tick is one of three Lyme disease transmitting tick species found in Ohio.

They are the only Lyme disease transmitting tick that is active in winter.

Only 35 were identified in the 20-year period between 1989 and 2008. Since 2008 that number has been sharply on the rise, with 2,014 found in 2011 alone.

There were 53 cases of Lyme disease reported in Ohio in 2011 and 46 cases reported so far this year, said Lynn Denny, epidemiologist with the Ohio Department of Health.

Precautions

There are several precautions that outdoorsmen and women can take to protect themselves this fall and winter. It is important to make sure all clothing is snuggly tucked in. This will ensure that as little skin as possible is accessible.

Ticks are going to climb up from the bottom until they find skin.

A tick repellent containing permethrin can be purchased at most outdoors stores. The repellent should be used to saturate clothes and given time to dry. It dries odorless and lasts through approximately six washings.

Check that deer carcasses are free of ticks as soon as possible to avoid spreading the ticks to new locations.

If sick, remember to tell your physician of possible exposure to ticks.

For more information on identifying, preventing, and removing ticks, visit the ODNR resource page.

Worth Pondering…

I tried real hard to play golf, and I was so bad at it they would have to check me for ticks at the end of the round because I’d spent about half the day in the woods.
—Jeff Foxworthy

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