December 8, 2011 —
Without doubt, one of the least appealing residents of the Upper Delaware River region is the tick. These blood-sucking parasites have proliferated along both sides of the river, increasing the risk of exposure to certain infections for humans and for animals.
The eight-legged arthropods, which are closely related to mites, are vectors for various disease-causing organisms, such as the spirochete associated with Lyme disease. Other transmitted organisms can include parasitic worms, viruses, bacteria and rickettsias. The two species of ticks most common to the region are the American dog tick and the blacklegged or deer tick.
Recent bouts of warming temperatures have enticed ticks to venture forth into areas of tall grass and brush, where they climb blades or stalks and patiently wait, forelegs extended, for a potential host to pass by. Once they’ve hitched a ride, they will usually “head for the head” of the host. Ticks are also drawn to areas of constriction, such as waistbands or sock cuffs. They move rather slowly and cannot jump or fly.
A tick’s touch is light enough not to be noticed. Even when inserting its hypostome, a dart-like structure, into its host’s flesh, many of us remain unaware of a tick’s presence. After consuming blood until its body becomes engorged, a tick will fall off and molt between life cycle stages. Male ticks are smaller than females and will often mate with a female while she is feeding on a host. The female can lay up to 4,000 eggs.
Minimizing exposure to infection from an embedded tick means removing it quickly and completely. Ticks need approximately 24 hours to transmit the Lyme spirochete. Using tweezers, grasp the tick close to the skin and pull it out quickly and firmly. Swab the site with alcohol. If a red ring or other symptoms develop, seek a doctor or veterinarian’s evaluation.
When outdoors, wear light-colored clothing and tuck pants into socks. Check for ticks repeatedly while in the woods and on returning home. Visit www.hgic.umd.edu/content/documents/ticks.pdf to learn more about this increasingly common parasite.