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Into the Outdoors - Ticks

By Chris Henderson

As we all know, early spring is a lovely time of year, and it will be upon us in less than a week. The long winter will be over, and some of the lovely, warm days of which we dreamed for so long will be here.  The birds are coming back, the trees are in leaf bud, the fish are starting to bite and things are just great.  Unfortunately, there are also some unpleasant aspects to the return of warm weather.

With all of the hoopla over the coronavirus, it’s easy to forget about another, and, in fact, more immediate concern. That is the problem of ticks.  Let’s focus a bit on these bothersome and dangerous critters.  Ticks are often thought of as a warm weather pest, but that is a misconception. They are around all the time.  In fact, a friend of mine once got one in 20 degree weather. They do, however, seem more common when things warm up.

We’ve all heard of the deer tick, also known as black-legged tick.  They carry the dreaded lyme disease. I personally know two individuals who suffered through the full blown form of this disease. Their experiences were both terrible and life-threatening.  I went to the bother and expense of getting the vaccine, but the jury is still out on how long its protection lasts.  The major indicator of a bite is a bullseye shaped inflammation.  If you get one of these, get to a doctor right away.  If antibiotics are administered early, you can avoid some real misery.

Ticks are often thought of as insects, but they are really arachnids, closely related to spiders and scorpions. A parasite, they feed on the blood of their host.  The American dog tick is one of the most commonly encountered ticks in our area. Although they are named the dog tick, they readily attach themselves to other creatures as well, including humans.   Space does not permit a discussion of all of the types of tick of which we must be wary.  When you come right down to it, they are all similar in many ways, and they can carry such horrible diseases as the aforementioned lyme disease, spotted fever, tularemia and a variety of others.

Fortunately, ticks are fairly easy to spot. They appear as a fat, bulbous knob on the skin.  The more engorged they become with blood, the bigger they get.  When you remove them from a pet, care should be taken to not leave the mouth parts imbedded in the skin.  The tick should be gripped as close to the skin as possible, and gently pulled out.  Once the tick is out, don’t crush it with your fingers.  Not only will doing make you feel like hurling your lunch, it liberates the germs carried by the tick.  The best things to do are to flush them down the toilet or burn them in a fire.  Each time I remove one of them from our outside cat, I burn it up with a butane grill lighter.  This gets rid of both the tick and the germs it carries. No matter how you deal with them, ticks are enough to gross you out.  After removing them, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.  If, after a tick bite, you or your pet exhibit symptoms of illness, seek veterinary or medical assistance at once.

Ticks should by no means prevent you or your pets from enjoying time spent outdoors.  A bit of simple caution can avoid most problems.

I had originally planned to focus this week’s column on panfishing, but the appearance of flies and other bugs caused me to change my mind.  We’ll look at that next week.

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