Ticks in Kentucky
Ticks can make outdoor activities very uncomfortable in Kentucky, as well as posing a potential public health threat (see the previous article on ticks posted to KPN on April 7, 2015). Tick season extends from mid-March through August across the Commonwealth.
Lone Star Ticks
Tick season typically begins with hungry adult and nymphal lone star ticks (LST) looking for blood meals in spring and ends with the itchy miseries from feeding or their tiny larvae (also called seed ticks and turkey mites) during August and September. The LST is our Number One nuisance / human health threat. All three of its life stages readily feed on humans. The small size of the larvae and nymphs makes them easy to overlook when compared to the larger adults.
American Dog Tick
The American dog tick, traditionally our second troublesome tick, can be picked up from April through August. While this species can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the incidence of infected ticks is very low in Kentucky. Only adults feed on humans and medium large-sized mammals. Their size makes them easier to detect and to remove before they begin to attach and feed. American dog ticks are much less common and the typical reaction to bites is not as strong as for the LST.
Kentucky is transitioning from a 2 tick state to a 3 tick state. The newest arrival is the blacklegged tick (BLT), Ixodes scapularis. First detected in numbers in 2013 (Figure 1), it has probably been here for several years, and it seems to be doing well.
The BLT brings two new dimensions to the state:
1) Winter activity – adults search for hosts from November through spring, a distinct contrast in activity pattern.
2) Ixodes scapularis is the vector of Lyme disease in the northeastern and northcentral U.S. Based on the incidence of the disease in the South, the species does not seem to be an effective vector, for reasons that have not been determined (Figure 2).
Lyme Disease Awareness Month
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. While the incidence of confirmed cases in Kentucky is low, it is important to have some background information on it and to know how to protect yourself from ticks.
Table 1 summarizes the confirmed cases of Lyme disease reported from Kentucky, neighboring states, and the nation’s averages from 2004 – 2013. Southern populations of the BLT do not seem to be effective vectors of Lyme disease, or the incidence of the pathogen is very low in reservoir animals (small mammals). However, the range of the BLT is expanding through movement of deer and birds. Movement into the state may be coming from the North and South with an ensuing increase in competent vectors. Their incidence in the state may increase over time.
Table 1. Incidence of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Kentucky, neighboring states, and the nation (2004-2013)
Lyme disease average incidence 2004-2013*
* Confirmed cases per 100,000 people (CDC). Source: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6416a7.htm
- Use repellents and clothing treatments when in tick-infested areas.
- Check regularly for ticks and remove them carefully – in general, ticks carrying pathogens must feed for about 12 hours before transmission occurs.
1) Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
2) Pull upward with steady, even pressure (Figure 3). Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
3) After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
4) Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
Tick Bite Follow-up
See your doctor if you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist