By Dr. Sara SmithAlthough we are in the middle of winter, I would like to share some information to help you prepare for the next tick season, especially since the tick species migrating into our state can be active during any time of year, even in snow! I am talking about Ixodes scapularis, the blacklegged tick, or more commonly known as the deer tick. Found in Ohio for the first time in 2010 (in Coshocton County), and since then in several other counties, it has not been confirmed yet in Allen County. This tiny little arachnid is the cause of Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness, and in heavily infested areas of the northeast U.S., thousands of cases of Lyme disease are reported each year! Deer are one of the many types of animals that blacklegged ticks feed on — adult ticks are most active during fall around deer hunting season — but have no importance in harboring the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. The common whitefooted mouse is the largest reservoir. Once a blacklegged tick feeds on a carrier mouse, it will also be a Lyme carrier for the rest of its life. The complex lifecycle of this tick takes at least two years to complete, with the greatest risk of Lyme disease transmission in the late spring and summer, from the nymph (pre-adult) stage of the tick. We have all heard of the characteristic bulls-eye rash that can develop when a person is first infected with the Lyme bacteria. Flu-like symptoms, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes are other early signs of the disease in humans and should be reported to your physician immediately, so testing and treatment can be done. Lyme disease is rarely life-threatening, but can lead to chronic symptoms, such as arthritis and fatigue, if not treated. Animals do not get a characteristic rash after being infected. Fever, decreased appetite, and joint pain are some symptoms we see in dogs (and rarely cats) — but not until a few weeks after infection. Lyme disease testing for dogs requires a blood sample, and treatment involves an oral antibiotic. Other species of ticks can transmit diseases, too. The most common tick in Ohio, the American dog tick, can carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.Tick prevention is the best practice to avoid contracting Lyme, and other diseases. Blacklegged ticks live in wooded areas, as opposed to tall grasses, where the dog tick resides, so be careful to check for ticks after entering woods, especially May through August. Blacklegged ticks can be as small as a pin head, and quick — they can move to a hidden location of the body, such as the groin or scalp, within a matter of minutes. Do not worry about ticks “jumping” out of trees — they are blind creatures! They grab onto fur or clothing as a pet or person passes by them. For people, use repellents with 30 percent DEET on exposed clothing and skin during peak tick season. Pets should be treated with a veterinarian-recommended monthly flea and tick preventative medication (do not use permethrin products on cats) and checked regularly as well.Parasites that feed on blood, ticks have special mouthparts designed just for the task. They are like two tiny “saws” side by side, that burrow to a capillary in the skin. Two types of saliva mix together to form an epoxy that cements the mouthparts into the skin. Needless to say, it’s very difficult to make a tick budge with nail polish, mineral oil, matches, alcohol (or any combination of the above), and you may harm yourself more than the tick. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it close to the skin with tweezers and pull up with steady, even pressure. Clean the site with soap and water. Don’t panic if the mouthparts are left in the skin — tick-borne diseases are transferred from the gut in the main part of the body, only after the tick has been embedded for more than 36 hours.Educate yourself on simple tick identification, at www.odh.ohio.gov. If you find a tick other than the dog tick, the best place to bring it is your veterinarian’s office. We should submit it to the proper health department for ID and Lyme testing. Research is currently being conducted on populations of blacklegged ticks in Ohio, which will continue to spread as wildlife carries the bugs to new locations. Remember, they defy commonly held views of ticks, as they reside in woods and are active even in cold weather. Now, saying “I want to check you for ticks” might not be such a cheesy pick-up line!Dr. Sara Smith is an associate veterinarian at Delphos Animal Hospital.