Beware of tick bites: Mating season looms

Maria Papadopoulos

If you encounter a lot of adult ticks this fall, it’s because the tiny critters have emerged as part of their regular life cycle and begun the mating season, an expert said.

“They’re small, and they’re dark-colored, so you don’t see them until they attach to you,” said Craig Hollingsworth, an entymologist at the UMass Extension Diagnostic Lab in Amherst.

Deer ticks are the most common type and can cause Lyme disease, which can lead to serious joint, heart or central nervous system problems if not detected early. Dog ticks are larger than deer ticks and do not carry Lyme disease.

Now is a good time to be careful about outdoor exposure, especially in wooded areas, as ticks like to attach themselves to humans, Hollingsworth said.

Ticks crawl up to the ends of plants, extend their fore legs and wait for something warm to come by.

“Then they attach to it, so they ambush their hosts,” Hollingsworth said.

About one-fourth of ticks carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, he said.

Lyme disease has increased significantly across the state and this region in recent years.

In Plymouth County, for example, there were 362 confirmed cases in 2007, up from 235 in 2006 In 2007, there were 3,359 confirmed cases of Lyme disease statewide, up from 2,459 in 2005.

While adult ticks are encountered in the fall, mid-summer is a dangerous time for tick exposure because developing ticks are smaller, and “you don’t see the ticks and they can be feeding on you,” Hollingsworth said.

There has been an upsurge in ticks submitted to the UMass Extension Diagnostic Lab for analysis to see if the ticks are carrying the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, he said.

To avoid tick bites, Hollingsworth and state public health officials warn people to take precautions:

Use mosquito repellant containing DEET. Cover as much skin as possible with clothing while outdoors so ticks can’t attach to you.Wear light-colored clothing, so ticks are visible. Check yourself and children, especially behind the knees and under the arms, since ticks like to live in warm places.

“Prevention is critical. This is something that can be prevented,” state Department of Public Health spokeswoman Donna Rheaume said about tick bites and Lyme disease.

The state says that if you remove an attached tick from your body, watch for the appearance of any type of rash, fever or flu-like symptoms.

Immediately seek the advice of a health care provider should any symptoms occur, especially if the tick was attached for more than 24 hours.

Maria Papadopoulos can be reached