Your odds of getting bit by a tick and contracting a disease are getting higher each year in Ohio.
In the past four years, the number of cases of Lyme disease nearly doubled, with 293 cases reported in 2018, according to Ohio Department of Public Health data.
Massillon City Health Commissioner Terri Argent said the growing tick population is a cause for concern.
Last year, four cases of Lyme Disease were reported in the city. So far, this year there are no cases, but Argent expects that could change as summer approaches.
The greatest risks grow during the summer months when more people will be outside, she said.
As of Monday, there already were 27 cases statewide this year.
“The incidence of Lyme disease locally has increased every year and is projected to continue to increase every year,” said Dr. Timothy McDermott, a veterinarian and Ohio State University extension educator in Franklin County. “We worry about new tick species that are on the radar.”
McDermott, who travels all over the state to teach Ohioans about ticks, said he has met people who have contracted Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and mammalian meat allergy from bites. Health records show there were 38 Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases last year across the state.
Tick-borne diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites and can be “tremendously impactful, depending on your lifestyle,” he said. “There can be extremely serious health risks with profound and lasting consequences.”
In the past decade, there have been no deaths reported in Ohio as a result of Lyme disease, but there’s still reason for concern, according to experts.
With more ticks, “the disease percentages we’re seeing is correspondingly increasing,” McDermott said.
The most common ticks in Ohio include the American dog tick that likes open grass habitats; the deer tick that prefers wooded areas; and the Gulf Coast tick. Deer ticks have been documented in 66 out of 88 of Ohio’s counties, said Richard Gary, an entomologist with the Ohio Department of Public Health.
If you notice a tick, experts say to remove it immediately using tweezers, by grasping the tick as close as possible to the skin’s surface and pulling it away from your skin with steady pressure. If you’re worried about illness, you can place the tick in alcohol and send it off to get tested through the University of Massachusetts.
The incubation period for Rocky Mountain spotted fever takes five to 10 days from infection. Lyme disease can take between three and 30 days to show symptoms, Gary said.
Ticks, which are not insects but eight-legged arachnids, use two pairs of their legs to hold on to grass or bushes, and then another pair of legs to latch on to their prey as it goes by.
They have piercing sucking mouths called hypostomes. (“Picture a harpoon or a shovel that has serrations in it,” McDermott said.) Diseases, if they carry them, are stored in their gut.
The increase in ticks has been linked to the destruction of natural habitats and a warming climate.
With more encroaching development, less hunting and fewer natural predators, tick-carrying deer are living closer to humans, leading to more interaction.
Climate change is expected to help more ticks flourish. As long as it’s above freezing, ticks can feed year-round.
While Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are more common, a bite from an infected Lone Star tick can mean you’ll become allergic to red meat. The state does not keep data on how many Ohioans have developed the allergy.
“Yeah, bacon cheeseburgers would be a thing of the past,” McDermott said, but emphasized that “it has not been diagnosed for a very long time.”