Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania, which sees about 5,000 cases of Lyme disease a year, Ohio has not been a hot spot for the tick-borne illness — until now.
Based on the number of deer ticks being found in Ohio, including Ashtabula County, the number of ticks in the Buckeye State is rapidly growing, said Glen Needham, Ph. D., a deer tick expert and associate professor emeritus at Ohio State University.
Infected black-legged ticks, also called deer ticks, spread Lyme disease through their bite. They have been collected in 52 of Ohio’s 88 counties, including Ashtabula and Lake counties, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Needham said it started in 2006, when an Amish woman in Coshocton County came down with Lyme Disease, but no tick was discovered. Then, in 2010, a member of her family called to say he found a deer tick on his coat.
So far, 183 ticks submitted last year to the state health department have been identified as deer ticks, and 1,830 more were discovered on 98 deer heads collected in 25 counties by other state agencies, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
“Migratory birds probably brought them to Ohio from Pennsylvania,” Needham said. “One female deer tick can lay 2,000 eggs.”
Some of the ticks have been found to carry Lyme bacterium, and more testing is needed, he said. Unfortunately, the people who test for Lyme disease at the Zoonotic Disease Program in Reynoldsburg have been reassigned, Needham said.
“We are trying to work with the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” he said. “We want to be slightly ahead of the curve.”
State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, said he is pushing legislation to encourage all health providers to be aware of Lyme disease and what to look for in their patients.
He also wants to mandate that at the time of testing, the patient is read a script that even if the test is negative for Lyme disease, it could be positive and they should be rechecked. He also wants more money put into laboratory testing.
Ashtabula County leads the state in Lyme disease in dogs at 12 percent, veterinarian Susan Paulic of the Austinburg Veterinary Clinic said.
“There is an upswing in the amount of ticks and the number of people with ticks on their pets,” she said. “It is the first year where I’ve seen tick medication not holding up.”
Another concern is that, unlike other ticks, deer ticks can be found all year, she said.
Lyme disease is on the rise everywhere and its symptoms in humans mimic the influenza, she said.
Dogs may limp around and stop eating, Paulic said, noting dogs in the city have as much chance of contacting a tick as a dog in the country.
Vaccinations are available for dogs, but not humans, she said.
“Deer ticks will feed on anything despite their name,” Needham said. “If you get a tick on you, you have a 50-50 chance of getting Lyme Disease.”
At the North Kingsville Sand Barrens Preserve on Poore Road, caretaker Terry Simpson collects ticks for Needham and his research. She also tells bird watchers and walkers, who come to the sandy ridge to enjoy nature, how to protect themselves from ticks before they enter the property.
Simpson can’t talk to everyone who stops at the sand barrens, so Patterson and Needham would like to work with the Museum of Natural History and erect an informational sign and/or kiosk at the entrance to include education on deer ticks.
How to keep ticks off of you:
• Wear insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET on exposed skin.
• Tuck pant legs into socks.
• Wear light-colored clothing so you can see a tick and remove it before it attaches to your skin.
• Inspect yourself as soon as possible, and shower within two hours of getting indoors. Parents inspect children. Look for ticks under arms, around ears, inside belly button, between legs, around waist and especially in the hair.
• Deer ticks are much smaller than ticks you may be used to seeing. They are about the size of a grain of rice. Pull it off with tweezers and disinfect site with alcohol.
One of the earliest signs of Lyme Disease is bulls eye rash. If this appears you should seek medical treatment right away. The doctor will prescribe an antibiotic and the course of the illness goes much better if it is detected early.
Be aware of deer ticks in summer and winter!