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Ticks seem to be bugging us earlier and in greater numbers

Sunday, May 10, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — A robust army of ticks is prowling the grasslands of Missouri, and Missourians' love of nature may be responsible.

Richard Houseman, professor of entomology at MU said, "In terms of the numbers of calls I get, they're definitely worse than normal."

The tick population explosion has a lot to do with the abundance of habitat and hosts, he said. The burgeoning population of about 4 million deer in the state, the urban deer population and the back-to-nature creation of natural areas even at home are the culprits, he said.

Nature lovers and some conservation workers report anecdotally of people picking up dozens of ticks from grassy areas, and children coming in from nature hikes "covered with ticks."

People started complaining in March, a month earlier than usual, of multiple ticks or inflamed and infected tick bites, said Lois Kendall, a spokeswoman for St. Anthony's Medical Center. More children than adults are reporting tick bites at the hospital's satellite urgent care centers.

Most visits to the emergency room have been because children panicked when they pulled off a tick and the head stayed under the skin, Kendall said.

The St. Louis County Department of Health isn't reporting more tick-borne diseases than normal.

"This is early to see if there's more of a problem or not," said Craig LeFebvre, public information coordinator for the agency, which also has reported one case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever this year.

Even if there is a tick population explosion, "There's not much we can do about it," said Karen Yates, head of the vector-borne disease program with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. "All people can do is protect themselves."

Conditions are ripe for an overpopulation of ticks and the diseases they deliver, said Gerardo Camilo, biology professor at Saint Louis University. But the state isn't paying enough attention, he said.

"It's not a sexy enough problem," Camilo said.

Conditions including an abundance of deer, rabbits, mice and other animals that have adapted to urban sprawl, plus mild winters, have been ideal for ticks, he said.

For an effective winter kill of ticks, ground temperatures must drop to 26 degrees for 72 hours and penetrate 18 inches into the soil, he said. That didn't happen for the past couple of winters, Camilo said.

Fighting an outbreak of tick-borne disease will be more costly than dealing with the problem now, he warned.


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Comments

Gary Vaught May 13, 2009 | 10:46 a.m.

I am member of Mid-Missouri Tick Illness Coalition and Columbia Tick Borne Illness groups. What I say is not some half-baked theory or something I got from reading a single article in the New England Journal of Medicine. It is from years of experience, research and networking. There are people who have been working on this for decades and we are still fighting the denial of the establishment.

It's true - this isn't "sexy" enough to get the attention of most people. Including Ms. Yates. The facts are:
-Lyme disease and a host of other tick-borne diseases exist.
-Ticks are the MOST common vector of transmission, but not the only way to get a tick-borne illness.
-We have ticks in Missouri.
-Regardless of what the government or the doctors say, ticks do not recognize political borders. We have these diseases IN Missouri.

If you find a tick on you, unattached, the best thing to do is use tape to remove it (just touch the sticky side to the tick) and then envelope it within the tape.

If you find a tick on you, attached, use fine point tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently remove it. Traumatizing the tick (squeezing, burning, "smothering", etc.) will cause it to regurgitate the contents of its gut (including all the bacteria there) into your body. THAT is what causes tick-borne diseases to pass to mammals.

If you have a tick bite, FIND a doctor who will prescribe an appropriate course of antibiotics, AT LEAST 15 days, preferably more than 30.

(Report Comment)
Amber Hanneken May 13, 2009 | 12:56 p.m.

I think administering antibiotics for every tick bite is irrational, and will only hasten resistance to antibiotics by many diseases.

However, if you have a tick bite and begin experiencing symptoms of illness in the days following you should go to the doctor and mention the bite. That way, you can be tested for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Ehrlichiosis.

(Report Comment)

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