This image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the stages of black-legged (deer) tick development.

Fellow Ohio hunters, beware of black-legged 'deer' ticks, Lyme disease

For as long as I can remember, I have looked forward to the start of hunting season every September.

As hot and muggy as it might be, I still had to get out and at least scout my spots for fox squirrels. I could deal with mosquitoes, as much as I despise them. Lather on the DEET and throw on a head net and gloves, and I'm good to go.

But if you haven't noticed, ticks are getting worse, and the April-to-September peak season thing seems to be a thing of the past, especially where black-legged (deer) ticks are concerned. In fact, a mere 20 years ago, the American dog tick was the only real medical concern in Ohio, according to an Ohio State University Extension expert, Dr. Tim McDermott.

Ohio has seen a steady increase in tick-vector diseases each year, McDermott said in an Ohio State College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences article back in late April.

“Ticks are extraordinarily adaptable and can travel on host animals,” McDermott said in the article. “They take advantage of what they can take advantage of to move to new spaces. So now, every year going forward has the potential to be bad, and you should go into each tick season thinking about how you can keep you and your family tick-safe.”

He continued:

“In Ohio, ticks are most active from April through September, although they can be active any time of the year,” he said. "We have had positive cases of Lyme disease diagnosed in every month of the year in Ohio.

Indeed, I came home from rabbit hunting one December day in 2021 and found several nymphs on my shirt.

Those little blood suckers can be the most dangerous for transmitting Lyme disease because they're not as easy to find, as you'll read below.

Ohio actually now has five active disease-carrying ticks — American dog ticks, black-legged ticks, Asian longhorned ticks, lone-star ticks and Gulf Coast ticks. But the black-legged tick's Lyme disease is of high concern.

How to avoid Lyme disease

Lyme disease is caused by an infection with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, according to an Ohio Department of Health website devoted to Lyme disease. In Ohio, B. burgdorferi is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick.

The number of Lyme disease cases in Ohio is increasing as the range of deer tick populations expands and encounters with the tick occur more frequently, particularly in the forest habitats preferred by it, according to the ODH site.

Most humans are infected through nymph bites, according to the ODH site. Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and difficult to see; they feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease bacteria, but they are much larger and are more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria, according to the ODH site. Adult deer ticks are most active during the cooler months of the year.

The ODH also has a dedicated tick page to help you protect against tick bites, check for ticks, remove them, and watch for symptoms.

Follow these tips when out hunting

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has some tips for avoiding ticks while in the field. But even when following these tips, it's important to check yourself ASAP after each hunting trip.

  • Know when and where to expect ticks. (Deer ticks are found in the woods; dog ticks are in grassy areas and road edges.)
  • Use repellents according to labels.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks and boots and tuck your shirt into your pants.
  • Check yourself, family and pets regularly and remove ticks immediately.
  • Use anti-tick products on pets.
  • Ask your veterinarian about Lyme vaccines for pets where black-legged ticks are found.
  • Create a tick-safe zone in your yard.

To use tick repellent properly, follow these steps:

  1. First, purchase an insect repellent containing permethrin.
  2. Apply the permethrin to your pants and boots and allow them to dry.
  3. When heading to the field, tuck your pants into your boots to prevent tick access to your skin.

Once the permethrin is dry, it has no odor and leaves no stain, according to the ODNR site. The repellent should remain effective throughout the hunting season, even with exposure to moisture or hot-water washing.

So now you know. Enjoy the hunting season, but stay safe.

Joe D. "Buck" Ruth is a longtime small-game hunter and gun owner who spent nearly three decades in the news industry.

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