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Ticks are out early

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POTSDAM - The mild winter may have contributed to the early appearance of ticks which can cause Lyme Disease, a growing problem in pets because owners sometimes do not recognize early symptoms.

“There’s been lots of stories this year on whether this will be tickmageddon or for mosquitoes for that matter,” said P. Bryon Backenson, an entomologist with the state Health Department. “When the winter weather is warm, we don’t see the mortality we might otherwise expect. It certainly has allowed them to come out sooner. There are a few places that we watch where the ticks are out earlier but not in greater numbers than previous years.”

Long-term, the number of ticks has been on a steady increase for years. The state is home to 10 kinds of ticks. The three most common are the lone star tick, the American dog tick and the deer tick — the only tick that carries the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease. Ticks have been expanding their reach further north and west and into Canada.

“The increase is certainly something true and real,” Mr. Backenson said. “Why is still to be determined.”

Scientists are looking at shifts in weather patterns, deer populations and the way the environment is being used to help explain the prevalence of ticks.

While this winter’s mild temperatures may have caused an early onslaught, the lack of snow made the ticks more susceptible to drying out, Mr. Backenson said.

“They didn’t have that insulating blanket,” he said.

Ticks are most active in the spring, early summer and fall. Whether this year will be worse than others or about the same, pet owners should be aware of the growing tick problem, said Justine A. Smith, a technician at the Potsdam Animal Hospital.

“We’re seeing a lot more Lyme Disease that has developed over the last three years,” she said. “People often ignore the early symptoms.”

A pet who develops a shifting lameness or one which is in deep pain should be checked for Lyme Disease. Renal failure can come later.

“We’ve lost three dogs since last year,” Miss Smith said. “Last year, I was finding ticks on me just from walking in the woods.”

As in humans, Lyme Disease responds to antibiotics.

Some areas, such as Richville, are particularly tick-infested, Gouverneur veterinarian Timothy J. Monroe said.

“Up until about four years ago, we didn’t have any ticks. Over the last two years, we’ve had 100 dogs which tested positive for Lyme Disease,” he said. “I think we’re up to about 75 since January.”

Dog-owners who are pulling four or five ticks off their pets a day might consider a Scalabor collar, which repels ticks for up to six months, Dr. Monroe said.

Humans can wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants and spray themselves with repellent to ward off ticks. The bite of a Lyme Disease-infected tick does not transmit the disease immediately.

“They usually have to feed for 36 hours,” Mr. Backenson said. “For ticks, that really is the best thing you can do, check yourself over once a day.”

To remove a tick, use a pair of tweezers to grasp it by its head or mouth parts where they enter the skin and pull steadily outward. The site should be watched for 30 days for a rash that can indicate Lyme Disease.

As for mosquitoes, the 70 species in the state also are affected by weather, Mr. Backenson said.

Mosquitoes are activated by melting snow, the lack of which kept numbers down early on, he said. A warm period in March may not have helped a surge in mosquitoes that much because it was followed by below-freezing temperatures. The population this summer likely will depend on rain levels.

“If we have a serious drought, those mosquito populations may crash,” Mr. Backenson said.

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