Officials say tick numbers may be on the rise

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(Host) If you take a walk in the Vermont woods this spring, there’s a pretty good chance that you could take some ticks home with you.

State officials say the population of the tiny creatures has soared this year.

But, as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, the ticks that carry Lyme disease have not been a big problem so far.

(Sneyd) Summer is just about upon us and that means a lot of people are heading outside to hike and camp.

They won’t be alone.

Scientists who’ve done field tests say the woods are thick with ticks, which love to latch on to people and pets who pass by.

Up to now, the experts have found mostly “dog ticks,” which are relatively harmless compared to their black-legged cousins, more commonly known as deer ticks.

It’s deer ticks that can be a problem because they can transmit Lyme disease to humans through a bite.

State epidemiologist Patsy Kelso says people need to be careful about ticks when they venture outside.

(Kelso) "I guess the big message for people is try to avoid ticks. There are things you can do, like wearing clothing barriers and using insect repellent. But also do a daily tick check to make sure that if you did acquire any ticks, you get them removed promptly. If they’re removed within about 24 hours of attaching, there’s really very little chance that they can spread lyme disease, even if they’re infected.”

(Sneyd) Lyme disease can be debilitating, possibly affecting a person’s heart and nervous system. Health officials say if it’s caught in time, it can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

Among the symptoms are a rash near the tick bite, fever, fatigue and a headache.

Disease-carrying ticks have been steadily moving northward. In 2005, there were 29 cases of Lyme disease in Vermont. Last year, that number grew to 83.

Still, experts say the presence of the ticks and the disease is no reason to stay indoors.

Gray Stevens is executive director of the Vermont Outdoor Guides Association, which gets a lot of calls about the risks from deer ticks.

(Stevens) "It’s a lot like the folks that are afraid of bears and they won’t to go out in the woods. If you know anything about being outside, you know it’s a really low risk factor.”

(Sneyd) Experts emphasize there are risks. The key, they say, is to be careful about wearing clothes that will keep ticks away from your skin – and to check for ticks after returning from outdoor activities.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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