Lone star ticks and American dog ticks are the key species in Kentucky with regards to nuisance and disease potential. Lone star adults and nymphs that survived winter are hungry. These fast moving ticks will react quickly to CO2, movement, and odor of potential hosts.
Lone Star Ticks
Lone star ticks (Figure 1) are frequently encountered along woodland trails and overgrown areas in much of Kentucky. They aggressively attack humans, a wide range of other mammals, and ground-nesting birds. Intense reactions to saliva injected while ticks feed can produce painful, itchy areas that become infected if contaminated from frequent scratching.
All lone star ticks are serious nuisance biters; the bite site will turn red and itch intensely for several days. In addition, some percentage of ticks may be carrying erlichiosis. Ehrlichiosis is an infection of white blood cells that affects various mammals, including mice, cattle, dogs, deer, horses, sheep, goats, and humans. It can exhibit a variety of symptom combinations: fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, and in some cases, a rash. Symptoms appear 1 to 2 weeks after the bite from an infected tick.
Kentucky is among the states with the highest reported incidences of erlichiosis: 3.3 to 26 cases per 1,000,000 people. The chance of an individual tick carrying the pathogen is very low and infected ticks must be attached and feed for at least 24 hours before the bacterium is transmitted. The disease can be successfully treated with an antibiotic if detected early. The lone star tick is not a vector of Lyme disease.
American Dog Tick
The American dog tick (Figure 2) will soon be active, too. It is the vector of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). Infections in humans usually begin as a sudden onset of fever and headache that appear from 2 to 14 days after an infected tick bite. Other symptoms can include nausea, muscle pain, lack of appetite, and rash.
Kentucky is among the states with the lowest reported incidence of RMSF (0.2 to 1.5 cases per 1,000,000 people). As with erlichiosis, an infected tick must feed for about 24 hours before the pathogen passes to the host.
Ticks live throughout Kentucky, but they are most common in overgrown vegetation along woodland edges and trails commonly transited by deer and other wildlife. Personal protection and awareness are keys to preventing the irritation of tick bites and the risk of infection by a tick-borne disease. The incidence of infected ticks is low in the state, and ticks must feed for hours before passing a pathogen, so the importance of early discovery and removal cannot be overemphasized.
Personal protection, frequent self-inspection, and prompt tick removal are keys to reducing tick bites and potential health consequences
■ Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be seen easily.
■ Tuck pant legs into socks and shirt into pants to keep ticks from reaching skin – a band of duct tape
(sticky side out) around the lower legs will help to trap ticks that latch on as you pass by.
■ Avoid or minimize time in tick habitats.
■ Use personal protection repellents (DEET or picaridin) or permethrin-based (Permanone) clothing sprays.
■ Inspect your clothing and body regularly and remove ticks, especially at the end of the day. Ticks wander on the body for some time before settling to feed. Often, they can be found before they become attached.
■ Take a warm soapy shower after potential tick exposure.
■ Wash clothing in hot water and detergent; store clothing in sealed bags until washed.
■ Check dogs frequently and remove ticks as they are found. There are insecticides/repellents that can be used to protect companion animals from ticks.
The longer ticks have been in place, the harder they are to remove. Barbed mouthparts and cement-like secretions anchor ticks firmly to the skin.
■ Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. Then, pull upward with steady, even pressure.
■ Twisting or ‘unscrewing’ the tick may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. Use of irritants, such a gasoline or a hot match tip, may cause the tick to salivate excessively, increasing the chances for skin irritation and potential disease transmission.
■ Prevent infection after removing the tick; thoroughly disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
Dealing with Tick Bites
Tick-borne diseases occur in Kentucky; fortunately, the incidence is very low. The risk of infection depends on the species of tick and length of attachment. Ticks can be removed carefully and preserved in rubbing alcohol for identification. It is normal for a tick bite to be red and irritating for several days. See a physician if the red area expands or symptoms typical of disease appear.
By Lee Townsend, Extension Entomologist