Could acorns lead to an up ‘tick’ in Lyme disease?

This year’s tick population, including the increased number of the treatments throughout the Mid-Atlantic, has a somewhat surprising cause … acorns.

Oak trees produced an extremely high number of acorns in 2010, which led to an increase in the white-footed mouse population in 2011. In turn, the deer tick (or black-legged tick), had ample supply of its preferred food source. As a result, you may spot more of the most common tick in the Mid-Atlantic in your backyard.

Ranging from the size of a sesame seed to 5/8-inch long, most ticks are ectoparasites, or parasites that live on the surface of their host. The deer tick goes through three life stages – larva, nymph and adult – requiring a blood meal during each stage. Typically, ticks feed on wildlife where they can come into contact with dangerous bacteria, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The bacteria may be transferred to humans through tick bites.

“In most cases, a tick must be attached to your body for 24 to 36 hours to transmit disease. As a result, prevention and early detection are critical,” says Phil Pierce, entomologist and technical services manager for Western Pest Services. “It is important to always check yourself, children and pets promptly after spending time outdoors in wooded or grassy areas and to take steps to limit your exposure to these blood-sucking pests.”

Pierce recommends the following tips to help you avoid ticks when outdoors:
* Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when working outside near woodlands, fields and areas with shrubbery and tall grass.
* Choose light-colored clothing so it’s easier to identify any ticks on your body, and tuck pants into socks or boots to prevent ticks from crawling into pant legs.
* Apply an EPA-approved insect repellant on clothing and exposed skin near potential entrance areas (pants cuff, shirt cuff, collar and around socks). You can also purchase clothing treated with materials that repel and control ticks.

Ticks generally do not infest areas that are well maintained. To help control tick populations around the home, keep vegetation in the yard trimmed, especially along the edges of your property.

Should you encounter ticks, it is best to remove them with fine point tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the point of the bite as possible. Gently, but firmly, lift the tick at the head with tweezers. Avoid using rubbing alcohol, nail polish, hot matches, petroleum jelly or other items to remove ticks as these may startle them, causing them to regurgitate and possibly infect you with disease or bacteria.

“Ticks are a year-round pest, so we expect residents will continue to encounter this pest into the fall,” adds Pierce.

Contact your local pest management professional should you suspect tick activity in or around your home. Experts also recommend consulting your doctor should you notice an attached tick lodged onto your body, as well as working with your veterinarian to make sure your pets are protected.

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