By Hayley M. Cook
WILLIAMSON – The tick population has been increasing in West Virginia, and health officials are testing any ticks that could spread disease among humans and pets.
The most common kind of tick in West Virginia is the blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick. Associated with Lyme disease, the black-legged tick can easily survive the harsh winter months, which explains why they are so prevalent during the summer.
“You would think the cold weather would kill them,” said state public health entomologist Eric Dotseth. “For the black-legged tick that does not mean a thing.”
Lyme disease, which can be spread by this variety of tick, was seen in 143 cases in 22 counties last year.
“Historically, we have seen Lyme disease in the Eastern Panhandle,” Dotseth said. “I get very concerned. I’ve been monitoring areas for the last few years. It’s much larger this year based on surveys in recent weeks when compared to 2012 and 2013.”
According to Dotseth, ticks are in the nymph stage during the months of May, June and July. Because of this, the insects are usually as small as “the dot of a pencil.” They prefer to be cool and are usually found in forested areas.
Dotseth offered some tips for avoiding black-legged ticks, including taking some precautions when going outside.
“Wear extra protective clothing,” he said. “Some people tuck their pants legs into their socks.”
“Around the house, keep the lawn mowed and reduce leaf piles. They may also be found in wood piles where mice have carried them.”
“Have your dog or cat on tick prevention,” Dotseth added. “They could bring ticks into the house and can get Lyme disease as well.”
According to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the life cycle of the black-legged tick is about two years. During this time it goes through four life stages, including egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph and adult. Once the eggs hatch, the ticks must have a blood supply at every meal to survive.
If a tick comes into contact with the skin, it usually takes 28-48 hours to become embedded. If a tick becomes stuck to the skin, it can be removed with tweezers. Dotseth said the area should then be washed well with soap and water.
A tiny rash from contact with a tick is due to the body reacting to the tick’s saliva, and is considered by Dotseth to be a normal reaction. Dotseth says that body aches and a larger rash, however, are signs to call a physician.
For more information, call the West Virginia Department of Health’s Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at (304) 558-5358.