Tick growth in Ohio causing Lyme disease concern

State health officials are warning outdoor enthusiasts to be on the lookout for blacklegged “deer” ticks in Ohio. The ticks are growing in population, which could mean an increase in Lyme disease and other infections they can transmit to humans. Female blacklegged tick on a leaf. PHOTO/PROVIDED

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State health officials are warning outdoor enthusiasts to be on the lookout for blacklegged “deer” ticks in Ohio. The ticks are growing in population, which could mean an increase in Lyme disease and other infections they can transmit to humans. Female blacklegged tick on a leaf. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Ticks are a problem every year in Ohio, but the forecast for an exploding tick population could make this summer the worst ever for Lyme disease.

Health officials are already warning people to take measures to limit their exposure to ticks carrying the potentially debilitating disease, which has symptoms that include fever, headache and fatigue. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, even the nervous system.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks carried by deer, white-footed mice and other animals and rodents common in the area. An unusually warm winter is suspected to have helped the small insects that carry Lyme disease thrive, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

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“The mild winter we just experienced may have increased the numbers of ticks that survived the winter, which may mean more people and pets encountering ticks, including blacklegged ticks, American dog ticks and lone star ticks, all of which may carry diseases,” the state health department said in a statement.

So far this year, 10 cases of Lyme disease have been confirmed in the state, compared to 15 at the same point last year, according to Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the health department.

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But experts say the figures could be much higher because many infections go unreported or misdiagnosed.

Locally, the health department has confirmed less than 10 cases of Lyme disease in the area in each of the past three years. But health officials remain on alert for any surge in the number of cases.

“We haven’t had many calls so far this spring related to ticks, but the more people get outdoors and become exposed to the ticks’ habitat, we’re likely get more calls,” said Tom Hut of Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County.

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To avoid infection, Hut recommends that homeowners keep the vegetation in their yards under control and keep a sharp eye on their pets.

“The more vegetation, the more likelihood of ticks being present,” he said. “We recommend that people keep their grass cut, and just create a barrier between the more vegetated areas, and where they are more active in their yards. People also need to protect their pets from ticks so they don’t bring them into the home.”

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