As nasty as deer ticks are across the Buckeye State, it’s even more critical to watch for ticks in eastern Ohio, as researchers say a disease-carrying tick is now established certain counties of the state.
Lyme disease, a sometimes-debilitating neurological illness carried by deer ticks, was nearly absent from Ohio until recently. A new study indicates that the primary carrier of Lyme disease, the blacklegged deer tick, has become established in many of the state’s more heavily forested areas.
The research conducted by Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Health found that blacklegged ticks and Lyme disease are now an emerging public health concern in Ohio, as tick populations carrying the disease have become established, particularly in the eastern half of the state.
“Ohio had a low incidence of human Lyme disease, which is largely attributed to the absence of the transmitting vector, the blacklegged deer tick, in the state,” said Glen Needham, professor emeritus of entomology in the university’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and one of the study’s authors. “However, evidence presented in this study suggests that the blacklegged deer tick is becoming established in certain areas of Ohio.”
The open-access paper was published in June in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.
Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, headache and muscle and joint aches. It often produces a distinctive large, circular red rash that looks like a bull’s-eye. When caught early, the disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Though not known to be fatal, the disease can progress to chronic arthritis, neurological symptoms and cardiac problems if left untreated.
Most people who get Lyme disease, Needham said, will acquire it from the nymphal, or juvenile, stage of the tick, which is very small—the size of a poppy seed—and is active in spring and summer, particularly in wooded areas. He said hunters and meat processors might especially be at risk from adult ticks this fall from September through December.
Blacklegged deer ticks have been confirmed in 57 Ohio counties and are likely well-established in 26 of those, mostly east of I-71.