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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

“If people see what I see they’d…never go outdoors”

I HATE ticks!
By TIM FAULKNER/ News staff

If you thought ticks were bad this year, you aren't alone. A national tick expert from the University of Rhode Island is just as freaked out.

“I’ve never seen so many deer ticks in my life,” said Tom Mather, director of the TickEncounter Resource Center and professor of public health and entomology at the University of Rhode Island. Mather said the tick population is 80 percent higher than last year, and 100 percent above the five-year average.

The most common tick, the deer tick, transmits Lyme disease and other infections. Up to 25 percent of nymphal, or young deer ticks, are infected with Lyme disease, and up to 60 percent of adult deer ticks carry the disease, he said.

Other tick species living in Rhode Island carry their own diseases.

The lone star tick has migrated from the South and Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic and has moved as far north as Maine. Mather first encountered the lone star tick on Prudence Island in the late 1980s. The tick hasn’t spread rapidly to other parts of the state, as Mather feared, but a small number inhabit North Kingstown and Tiverton.

“It hasn’t exploded on the mainland, but there’s no reason it cannot,” Mather said.

The female lone star tick is recognized by a white mark, or star, in the center of its back. The male is light brown and mottled. Both are aggressive biters. Lone star ticks don't transmit Lyme disease but they do carry other viruses such as ehrlichiosis, which is similar to Lyme disease. The symptoms include fever, headache, coughing, back pain, nausea and changes in mental health.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lone star ticks also HURT. Unlike deer ticks whose bite often goes unfelt, a lone star tick's bite stings like a bastard.

The second most common tick in Rhode Island, the American dog tick, can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. About two cases are reported annually in the state. Symptoms include nausea, fever and body aches. About 1 percent of cases are fatal.

Human babsiosis also is carried by the deer tick. The malaria-like disease can be fatal to people with immune deficiencies or other health issues. The disease will show no symptoms in many of those infected, but some 20 percent become ill. A single deer tick can infected a host with both basbsiosis and Lyme disease.

The time of year and location dictates where ticks are most active. Deer ticks are most threatening to humans in late spring, when they are small and hard to detect. Dog ticks are most common at the edge of marshes and in tall grasses. Deer ticks are found at the edge of wooded areas, along woodland paths and in dried leaves. Most die off during cooler weather, but some survive through winter.

Ticks inhabit most rural and suburban parts of Rhode Island, but can be found in some city parks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent to 80 percent of Lyme disease infections occurred in a backyard environment.

And just because you can’t see ticks doesn’t mean they aren’t out there — especially this year.

“If people see what I see they’d be shocked. They’d never go outdoors,” Mather said. “It’s incredible.”