While the weather in Spring, Summer, and Fall makes us want to be outside, insects can be a real bug in Ohio. While mosquitos may be the most annoying, ticks are the hidden danger.
The population of ticks in Columbus and around Ohio has been on the rise in recent years, thanks to warmer than average winters.
These tiny arachnids may seem harmless, but they can pose serious health risks to humans and pets.
If you have pets, you probably use tick prevention for them. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy for humans.
Understanding the dangers of ticks and taking preventive measures is essential for staying safe in tick-prone areas in Columbus and around Ohio.
My family has gone through two stressful tick situations, including Lyme disease, which I’ll talk about at the end of the article.
Ticks in Columbus and around Ohio
Ticks are most active April through October in Ohio, and can be found anytime above freezing temperatures. You are mostly likely to encounter ticks in grass, fields, woods, and brush.
Ticks can also hitch rides on clothing, pets, and other animals, and end up on humans who haven’t been in those areas.
Types of Ticks in Ohio
In Central Ohio, there are several species of ticks that residents should be aware of, including the black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick), American dog tick, and the lone star tick.
Each species carries the potential to transmit different diseases, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and several other diseases.
The American dog tick is the primary transmitter of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). This species may also transmit tularemia.
Dog ticks are found in grassy areas and road edges.
Blacklegged (Deer) tick
The blacklegged tick is the only vector of Lyme disease in the eastern and Midwestern United States. It is also the principal vector of human granulocytic anaplasmosis and babesiosis.
Typically, blacklegged ticks are found in the woods and in brush.
Long star ticks
Lone star ticks recently have emerged as a serious pest, especially in southern Ohio. The unfed adult female is about 3/16-inch long, brown, with a distinctive silvery spot on the upper surface of the scutum (hence the name ‘lone star’.).
Lone star ticks are the primary transmitter of human monocytic ehrlichiosis and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). They also may transmit tularemia and Q-fever. These are found in heavily wooded areas and brush.
Ticks on pets
Tick medication for pets works by making the animal’s blood poisonous to ticks. Once the tick starts feeding, they will ingest the medication, die, and fall off before they have a chance to transmit any diseases.
However, they can be found alive on pet’s fur before attaching, and can end up in your house or on you. It’s always a good idea to check your pet for ticks if you’ve been in an area of concern.
The Dangers of Tick Bites
Ticks are known to carry and transmit various infectious diseases to humans.
The most common and well-known is Lyme disease, which can cause symptoms such as fever, fatigue, joint pain, and a characteristic “bullseye” rash.
However, ticks can also transmit other serious illnesses, including anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis. These diseases can have severe consequences if left untreated.
What to do if you find a tick
For such a tiny insect, (larva can be smaller than a pinhead), ticks can be so creepy and worrisome when you see one.
If you see a tick crawling on you, that doesn’t mean you have been bitten yet. Once a tick is attached, it usually will remain for 3-10 days, unless removed.
Finding a tick attached to you does not mean that you will get Lyme disease or other health issue, but you should always monitor for symptoms.
How to remove a tick
If you find a tick crawling on you, dispose of it as soon as possible by putting it in alcohol, sealing it in a baggie, or flushing in down the toilet.
If you find an attached tick, remove it as soon as possible – the correct way – to reduce the chance of disease transmission.
There are many folk remedies shared about how to remove a tick, including hot match, Vaseline, essential oils, and other methods. Stick to the best known way to ensure that the tick is fully removed before it can transmit disease.
Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull tick away from your skin with steady pressure. Dispose or save the tick the the appropriate way.
Do not jerk or quickly pluck, as this can cause the mouth-parts to remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth-parts easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
Wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water.
Symptoms of Lyme disease and other tickborne illness
After a known tick bite (or if you’ve been in tick-infested areas), monitor your health for symptoms. While the CDC recognizes a 36-48 hr. window is needed for disease transmission, is has been shown that transmission can occur sooner.
Many tickborne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms. The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses are:
Fever/chills: With all tickborne diseases, patients can experience fever at varying degrees and time of onset.
Aches and pains: Tickborne disease symptoms include headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. With Lyme disease, you may also experience joint pain.
Rash: Lyme disease, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), ehrlichiosis, and tularemia can result in distinctive rashes.
Note: up to 40% of Lyme disease cases were not marked with the typical bullseye rash that has been associated with the disease.
Most tickborne diseases can be treated with antibiotics, but the sooner the better to decrease risk of serious or long-term complications.
If you are concerned about the possibility of disease transmission, you can have the tick tested to identify if it is infected. Early treatment with antibiotics is key in reducing the chance of long-term issues.
Your local health department or ODNR may be able to test for TYPE of tick, but they do not test or report if the tick was infected with disease.
Testing at private labs can be expensive, a lengthy process which delays treatment, and unreliable (false negative/false positive, so testing ticks for disease is not recommended. If this will help you feel better (and you aren’t experiencing any current symptoms), it’s ok to have the test to reassure yourself.
Contact your doctor immediately if you notice any symptoms after a tick bite.
If you have symptoms that seem like they could be related to Lyme disease, but you don’t know if you were bitten by a tick, you can request that your doctor order Lyme titer (blood test). Some doctors may recommend a course of antibiotics with or without testing, if symptoms seem possible.
How to avoid tick bites
Ticks are most active during warm months, which is also when you are most likely to have skin exposed.
While there are many natural tick repellents that can be used in addition to other methods, it’s recommended to use insect repellents registered by the EPA labeled for use against ticks on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
Protect Against Tick Bites
If you are in wooded, brushy areas, or around long grass or leaf litter, it’s especially important to take proper prevention precautions, check for ticks afterwards, and monitor for symptoms.
To reduce the chance of ticks reaching your skin, cover up. Wear long pants, long shirts, and long socks to cover as much skin as possible. Tuck pants into socks to ensure they can’t crawl up your pant legs.
Wearing light colored clothing can allow you to see ticks on your clothing more easily. Walking in the center of paths, when possible, can also prevent ticks from hitching a ride.
As mentioned above, using repellents labeled specifically for tick prevention is the most effective method. Products containing DEET, picaridin, or permethrin are effective in repelling ticks.
Clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents can be treated with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. It remains protective through several washings.
Once the permethrin is dry, it has no odor and leaves no stain. The repellent should remain effective throughout the season, even with exposure to moisture or hot-water washing.
Pre-treated clothing is available and may provide longer lasting protection.
Suggested options via Amazon
- Ben’s 30 Tick and Insect Repellent 2 pack (active ingredient 30% deet)
- Ben’s 30 Tick and Insect Repellent wipes (active ingredient 30% deet) these individually wrapped wipes make it easy to protect yourself on-the-go, during travel, or during unexpected excursions.
- Bens Tick Repellent Picaridin (active ingredient 20% picaridin)
- Repel Tick Defense Unscented Aerosol Spray (active ingredient 15% picaridin) Safe to apply to skin and all clothing.
- Repel Tick and Mosquito Defense Pump Spray (active ingredient 15% picaridin)
- Ranger Ready Picaridin 20% Tick & Insect Repellent, Scent Zero Deet-Free Bug Spray, Travel Size
- Ranger Ready Permethrin 0.5% Clothing-Worn Repellent, Scent Zero. Unscented bug spray with Permethrin 0.5% should be applied directly to clothing, sleeping bags, gear, and tents. Insect repellent lasts up to 5 washings or 40 days of sun exposure
- Sawyer Products SP657 Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent for Clothing, Gear & Tents, Trigger Spray. Bonds to fabric fibers for up to 6 weeks or through 6 washings (whichever comes first) and won’t stain or damage clothing, fabrics, plastics, finished surfaces, or outdoor gear; odorless after drying
- Sawyer Products SP6022 Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent for Clothing, Gear & Tents, Aerosol Spray. This is not to be applied to skin.
Perform Tick Checks
After spending time outdoors, immediately change clothing and check your body for ticks.
Pay attention to warm and moist areas, such as the scalp, behind the ears, underarms, groin, and behind the knees. Promptly remove any attached ticks using fine-tipped tweezers, and follow proper bite precautions mentioned above.
Clothing can be washed in hot water, or tumble dried on low to kill any ticks on clothing.
Pets and ticks
If you have pets, ensure that they are on tick prevention medication year round to prevent them from contracting Lyme disease.
Remember, ticks can still come IN on treated pets if they haven’t attached yet, so brushing your dog regularly and checking for ticks is still important.
Our family’s tick story
We live on a wooded property, along with many deer, so we’ve had experience in dealing with ticks. While we’ve all seen ticks crawling, we’ve only had one known tick attachment, as well as a likely unknown tick bite.
Attached tick/tick bite
Our son was 6 years old in March of 2020 when the world was largely shut down. We had a telehealth appointment with his pediatrician due to a rash on his midsection. It was of no specific pattern, and was determined to likely be viral.
Two days later, he mentioned a bump at the base of his scalp that had been bothering him. There was an attached tick hidden under his hair. We were able to remove it, and we saved it in case we needed to have it tested (especially considering the rash).
We called the pediatrician back and told him about the tick bite. He put him on a preventative course of antibiotics just in case the rash and the tick bite were related – as Lyme disease can present differently in kids.
Since we weren’t able to see a doctor in person at that time, or have a Lyme test done, we had the tick tested for disease.
We purchased the Cutter Tick Test from Amazon for around $30, which included the cost for the lab testing. The results were emailed to us within 2-3 days. The test showed that it was a black-legged (deer) tick, negative for Lyme disease. *Cue the huge sigh of relief.
Unknown tick bite
When this same son was 9, he woke up with extreme leg/hip pain and was unable to walk from the pain. We took him to the pediatrician, who had x-rays done and diagnosed as synovitis, which is inflammation of the lining of the hip joint caused by a virus. We were told it should get better in 7-10 days, which it seemed to.
A month later when the pain returned, we asked the doctor to check for Lyme disease. The blood test indicated that he was positive for Lyme Disease, and he went on lengthy course of antibiotics to clear the infection. His joint pain went away within a few days and hasn’t returned.
We hadn’t found a tick on him (since the one 3 years earlier, which tested negative for Lyme), so this was likely caused by an unknown tick bite.
This just goes to show that people don’t always get the standard bullseye rash with Lyme disease, and that it’s important to pay attention to ANY symptom that could be indicative of tickborne illness.
If you have any symptoms, make sure that you advocate for yourself. Ask your doctor to have the proper blood test performed if you have concerns.
Be prepared, don’t be afraid
Ticks may be a hidden danger in Columbus and throughout Ohio, the Midwest, and Northeast, but by taking precautions and staying informed, you can minimize your risk of tick-borne illnesses.
Enjoy the beauty of nature, but don’t forget to prioritize your safety and well-being while exploring the great outdoors.
For more details about Ticks in Ohio, see ODNR website, OSU extension, or the Ohio Department of Health website.
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