Tick season has arrived in Pennsylvania: Follow these simple steps to stay safe

FILE - This undated photo provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a blacklegged tick, which is also known as a deer tick. Ticks will be more active than usual early in spring 2023, and that means Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections could spread earlier and in greater numbers than in a typical year. Ticks can transmit multiple diseases that sicken humans, and deer ticks, which spread Lyme, are a day-to-day fact of life in the warm months in New England and the Midwest. (CDC via AP, File)

By Patrick Berkery

April 30, 2024

After another mild winter, Pennsylvania could experience an increase in ticks this year. Safeguarding yourself, and your pets, from ticks requires protecting yourself before, during, and after spending time outdoors.

Pennsylvania experienced another mild winter this year, which scientists say could mean more ticks earlier than usual and a wider spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.

Tick season generally stretches from April to October, though Memorial Day is often considered the start of the season, largely because that’s when people in cold-weather states like Pennsylvania ramp up their outdoor activity, leaving them more susceptible to tick bites.

According to Wesley Robinson, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, safeguarding yourself from ticks requires protecting yourself before, during, and after spending time outdoors.

“When you go out on a hike or spend time outdoors in a forest or recreational area, you definitely want to be mindful of ticks in those spaces,” Robinson said. “Cover exposed skin with lightweight, light-colored clothing, and avoid tick-infested habitats and areas with dense shrubbery and tall grass. We encourage people to use insect repellent to protect yourself from ticks before you run the risk of having one land on you and bite you. And always check for ticks after you get home. Check skin, hair, and clothing. Take a shower, wash your clothes and, if possible, dry all clothing in the dryer.”

We spoke with Robinson about the things Pennsylvanians should know in order to survive tick season safely this year.

Where Are Ticks Most Commonly Found?

Wooded areas, grassy areas, and overgrown places that don’t have a lot of human development are the most common spots for ticks. While many associate those types of areas with more rural parts of the state, Robinson stressed that Pennsylvania’s bigger cities and towns aren’t free of ticks.

“People think they’re not exposed to ticks in cities, but ticks can thrive almost anywhere where there’s woodlands, greenery and things like that,” Robinson said. “Philadelphia is a city with a lot of green space and parks. Fairmount Park and some of the other bigger green spaces in the city, those are opportune places for ticks to bite and pounce on people. It’s less likely that you’ll see them in the city, but it’s not uncommon.”

What Animals Carry Ticks?

Deer are one of the main carriers, but other animals can transmit ticks, especially those with longer hair, like horses and dogs, such as golden retrievers. That’s why watching pets in high-tick areas is so important, according to Robinson.

“You have a golden retriever that has a lot of fur, and it’s long enough to where something can get in and under and hide out,” Robinson said. “That can transmit and carry a tick and spread tick-borne disease with someone getting bit. It’s important to understand that lots of species are vulnerable to ticks and can carry ticks.”

What Happens When You Get a Tick Bite?

Infected ticks spread bacteria, viruses, and parasites that make people sick. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infection in the US, with an estimated 476,000 Americans diagnosed with Lyme each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease can cause a fever, chills, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. It is treated with antibiotics, and most people recover. Left untreated, it can worsen, causing symptoms such as heart problems and debilitating pain. There is no Lyme vaccine on the market in the US for people but one is being tested.

However, ticks don’t only carry Lyme disease. According to Robinson, Deer Tick Virus is a common tick-borne disease in Pennsylvania, along with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis and the Powassan virus disease.

How Do You Know if You’ve Been Bitten by a Tick?

Tick bites typically aren’t painful, so you likely won’t feel it when it happens. Many times ticks will bite you and remain there.

The main sign of a tick bite, Robinson said, is that you’ll start to feel sick. A sudden rash, inflammation around the spot where you were bitten, chills, and fatigue are all prime indicators.

“If you notice something out of the ordinary, that’s probably a sign that you were bitten by a tick,” Robinson said. “If you were just in an overgrown area with lots of shrubs, there’s a great chance that there are ticks there. Operate under the assumption that if something does feel off, or you’re struggling with your health, they’re symptoms of a tick bite.”

What’s the Best Way to Check if Your Pet Has a Tick Bite?

If your cat or dog spends time in areas of heavy growth or high grass, they’re susceptible to tick bites.

Just like with people, Robinson said if your pet begins to act sluggish or is exhibiting symptoms of illness and they’ve just spent time in an area where tick presence is likely, assume they’ve been bitten.

“You want to do a full body check,” Robinson said. “Look for rashes or spots, bumps, and elevated areas. Some things you won’t be able to see, so you want to feel around for anything out of the ordinary. Because they cannot speak, you have to be a little more vigilant and diligent about seeing what’s going on.”

You can protect your pets with tick treatments and collars. Another way to protect them, Robinson said, is to keep them out of tick-infested areas.

“I think a lot of people get outdoors and think ‘I’ll let my pet roam free,’” Robinson said. “That’s all well and good, but the main thing is you want to make sure they stay safe and protected as well. Keeping them out of heavy, wooded areas during tick season is a good way to do that.”

What Should You Do if You’ve Been Bitten by a Tick?

If you do get bitten by a tick, Robinson said remove it, save it, and send it to a lab. The Pennsylvania Depart of Health website has instructions on how to do that. Some labs, like the Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania, offer free testing for Pennsylvania residents.

Labs can analyze what disease a tick was carrying, which helps to ensure proper treatment.

“Because there are so many (tick-borne) diseases and people think of lyme disease first, you might go to a doctor and say you got bit by a tick and they might treat you for lyme disease and that might not be the best course of treatment,” Robinson said.

To remove a tick, use tweezers, and grab it by the mouth from your skin.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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