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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    ‘Stealth’ ticks are out in state, waiting to spread Lyme, other diseases

    As the weather finally warms up and people and pets start hiking through the woods and brush, ticks are waiting in ambush, ready to spread Lyme disease and other illnesses.

    “People should stay to trails and not bushwhack, simply because with the blacklegged tick, they’re stealth ticks, so they will climb out of the leaf litter, climb up low vegetation or brush, and then hook on, just put their two front legs out and wait for someone or some animal to pass and then they hook on as you go by,” said Gale Ridge, associate scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.

    The ticks do dry out if they stay up on a blade of grass too long, though. “So they need to go back to the ground to rehydrate, and then they go back up again,” Ridge said. “So they’ll go up and down, up and down and up and down.”

    The passive blacklegged tick, or deer tick, is different from the lone star tick, however. “They don’t chase you like the newly introduced lone star tick will do,” she said. “They’ll run after you.”

    The lone star tick, first found on an island off Norwalk in 2017, is still confined mostly to the shoreline in Connecticut, Ridge said. The deer tick is everywhere. Both carry diseases.

    A third tick in Connecticut is the Asian longhorn tick, “picked up on sheep in New Jersey in 2017,” Ridge said. “This is more of a veterinary tech and I think the gene line leads back to New Zealand.” It will be found on cows, horses, sheep and goats, she said.

    Besides Lyme disease, the blacklegged and lone star ticks spread babesiosis, which may not bring symptoms or may include flu-like symptoms. In some cases it can cause a type of anemia that leads to jaundice and dark urine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Ridge said both ticks also carry Ehrlichia chafeensis, which causes human monocytic ehrlichiosis. Symptoms include “a sudden high fever, headache, muscle aches (myalgia), chills, and a general feeling of weakness and fatigue,” according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

    A cousin of human Ehrlichia can affect dogs, she said.

    “The important thing is that people can go on to the experiment station website and fill out their knowledge with a lot of very good fact sheets and information documents,” Ridge said. “This is written by the scientists who are doing the work.”

    “Get the whole tick”

    The ticks that are out now are the overwintering adults, which will continue until May, when difficult-to-see nymphs will appear, peaking in June and July. Larvae peak in the fall and the adults come out again in October through the end of the year.

    Hikers should do a tick check afterward, and “use your hands rather than your eyes because the fingers are very rich in nerves,” Ridge said. “Your hands can actually pick up imperfections on the screen much easier than eyes, particularly with older people who have issues with aging vision. Pay attention to your back, areas that are not easily seen. Feel for everything.”

    If you find a tick walking around, just grab it with a tissue and flush it down the toilet, Ridge said.

    If it’s attached, “get some forceps, pointy forceps, right against the skin,” she said. “Close the forceps onto the tick and then very gently pull — don’t yank — because the mouthparts are barbed and they’re encased in a cement. So with gentle pressure slowly (pull). That will release and then you’ll get the whole tick.”

    Put the tick in a baggie, fill in the tick submission form on the ag station’s website and mail it in or drop it off, she said. The station will test it for disease.

    If the tick is still alive, you can freeze it for 24 hours, Ridge said. Don’t use chemicals. And don’t use scotch tape to attach it to paper.

    And be sure to check your dog as well, she said.

    In 2023, 5,743 ticks were submitted to the experiment station for testing. Of those, 26.5% tested positive for Lyme disease, 8.3% for babesiosis and 4.2% for both, and 2.4% for anaplasmosis.

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