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Don't let ticks get you down this spring

The weather's finally seasonably warm and sunny. So, it's go-time if you've got crops to plant.

The last thing you need now that seasonable weather has finally arrived is to be slowed down by illness. But, just as you're getting out, so too are pests that can do just that, namely ticks carrying Lyme disease.

"Ticks will be out looking for a blood meal," says Ohio State University Extension entomologist Glen Needham. "We want people to understand there's a risk of getting sick from tick bites when they are outdoors, and that there are things they can do to keep themselves, their families and their pets safe."

Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick's bite, typically leaving those infected with fever, headaches, fatigue and a rash called erythema migrans, according to a report from Cornell University Extension.

"If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks," according to the report. "Laboratory testing is helpful in the later stages of disease. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics."

The bad news is in much of the Midwest, blacklegged tick populations have grown in recent years. "When I came to Ohio in the late 1970s, the only tick people had to worry about was the American dog tick," Needham says in a university report. "In the past few years, there has definitely been an increase both in the number of ticks out there and in the types of ticks becoming established in Ohio."

Now for the good news: There are some fairly simple ways to avoid being the next Lyme disease victim in your area. Needham recommends the following:

  • If possible, avoid going into wooded areas in counties where blacklegged deer ticks have been established.

  • When going into wooded areas, wear long pants and tuck them into socks, and tuck shirts into pants, to keep ticks on the outside of clothing where they are more easily visible.

  • Apply repellent containing permethrin to pants, socks and boots and allow them to dry; or use DEET-containing repellents with at least 25 percent active ingredient.

  • Use anti-tick products on pets; ask your veterinarian about Lyme disease vaccines for pets where blacklegged deer ticks are found.

  • Ticks have to feed for more than a day before they may transmit disease. If you are in a tick-infested area, check yourself, children and pets daily.

  • If you find a tick, grasp it as close to the skin as possible with a pair of tweezers, a commercially designed tick remover or protected thumb and finger; slowly pull the tick out. "Techniques such as using nail polish, rubbing alcohol, petroleum jelly or a hot object to 'back the tick out' don't work. Those are just myths and delay removal," Needham says.

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