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Published: Friday, 9/14/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY:

Ticks can spoil a hunter's day in the woods

BY MATT MARKEY
OUTDOORS EDITOR
A blacklegged tick is shown next to a penny. A blacklegged tick is shown next to a penny.
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Hunters enter woods with awareness of tiny hitchhikers.

With the start of the archery seasons moving closer, the diligent hunters are already in the woods, scouting.

This fall, the bow hunters in Ohio and Michigan face the possibility of encountering an adversary not much bigger than a speck of pepper, but with the potential to pack a devastating punch.

The blacklegged tick, which can carry Lyme disease, is finding this part of the country increasingly to its liking.

"It is a biological phenomenon," said Glen Needham, associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University's Center for Life Sciences Education.

"We have ticks in many places where we did not have them before. We've had hunters who have worked a certain area for 20 years and have never seen a tick, and now as they are heading out to their tree stands they are getting ticks on them."

The blacklegged ticks, also called deer ticks, are so small, Needham said, that there is a visual hurdle involved because these ticks are difficult to see in a casual inspection, and they are often too small to feel, as well.

Ticks attach themselves to the skin and feed on the blood of a host. They do not transmit the disease-carrying bacteria until after at least 24 hours, so timely removal is critical.

Experts recommend that hunters, hikers, and campers who will be in the woods this fall treat their clothing with Permethrin, wear a hat, long sleeves, and long pants, and tuck their pants inside their socks to eliminate that access point. The next step is to conduct a thorough tick check around the head, neck, hands, and another other exposed areas after returning from the woods.

"All of the folk methods for removing ticks that we have heard about don't work and they might actually be harmful," Needham said.

"The only thing that works is to carefully pull them off with tweezers."

Symptoms of Lyme disease can appear from one to two weeks after a tick has attached to the skin.

The symptoms typically include a tell-tale bull's-eye shaped rash, joint soreness, fatigue, fever, and general flu-type discomfort. Ohio had 53 reported cases of Lyme disease last year.

Treatment with antibiotics is usually effective. Untreated, Lyme disease can seriously affect the nervous system, joints, and heart, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..

The much larger and more common dog tick can, in rare cases, transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which if left untreated can be fatal. There were less than two dozen cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Ohio in 2011.

Stephen Schmitt of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Disease Laboratory said West Nile virus, transmitted by certain mosquitoes, is more of a concern in most Michigan hunting areas than Lyme disease.

"This summer's drought helped with keeping the overall numbers of mosquitoes down," Schmitt said, "but for the ones that do transmit West Nile, these conditions were better for them."

Schmitt said the disease-carrying mosquitoes can breed in cisterns and storm drains, but in a year with normal precipitation, those areas are regularly flushed out by rains.

"The first frost will kill most of them off, but until then our hunters just need to be aware and take a few precautions," he said.

"They know to wear the long sleeves and pants, and if they are real concerned they can apply a mosquito repellent, but that goes against what most of them will do because of the scent."

Schmitt said the frequency of mosquito bites and the accompanying small risk of developing West Nile virus should quickly diminish as the archery season develops.

"As the fall goes on and the weather gets cooler, hunters will be at much less risk [for West Nile] than they would be while they are out scouting in late summer and early fall," Schmitt said.

While the first frost will knock the mosquitoes for a loop, ticks are much hardier and will remain active through the colder periods and should be regarded as a year-round concern.

"Ticks live in the woods, and that is where most of our hunters will be, so the bottom line is that people are going to be at risk, and they need to take precautions," Needham said.

A study last year found about half of the deer that biologists examined at check-in stations during the first week of Ohio's shotgun season had ticks on them.

A few of the deer had more than a hundred ticks on them.

Ohio's archery season for deer opens on Sept. 29, while Michigan's general archery season opens Oct. 1.

Michigan will hold special firearms antlerless deer hunts, youth hunts and hunts for disabled veterans beginning Sept. 22.

OHIO DEER/EHD: Several localized outbreaks of the common white-tailed deer disease EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) have been confirmed by state wildlife biologists. The cases occurred in Ashtabula, Columbiana, Geauga, Holmes, Paulding, Portage, Ross, and Summit counties. EHD occurs annually in deer herds throughout the country.

Deer contract the disease through the bite of midges and EHD is not spread from deer to humans. Infected animals experience a loss of appetite and weaken, while also losing their instinctive fear of man. Most of the infected deer will salivate excessively, lose consciousness, and die within two days of the onset of symptoms.

Hunters who encounter deer that appear to be sick or diseased are encouraged to report the cases to local wildlife officers.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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