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Virginia Tech entomologist: Ticks are everywhere, and they’re not going away

tick on human skin
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Ticks are everywhere, and they’re not going to go away, according to a Virginia Tech entomologist.

Warmer summers mean that there is a longer growing season and longer time for animals, who are carriers of ticks, to be active.

There are things that can be done to reduce the chance of getting tick bites.

“At very least, avoid those areas where wildlife is going through tall grass and tall weeds,” said Eric Day, a Virginia Tech entomologist.

Deer herds are increasing in suburban and urban environments, and deer hunting is declining.

“You can see that Virginia-wide, nationwide, you know, the number of people hunting for deer has gone down,” said Day.

The deer tick is the only known carrier for Lyme disease, and it’s a small tick with black legs, sometimes known as the blacklegged tick.

“The issue with the deer tick is just its very small size. It’s very easy to overlook,” said Day. “That’s why often folks don’t find them attached and feeding, which is not what you want to have because it’s a chance for them to transmit a disease to you.”

It isn’t just deer ticks that Virginians should worry about.

“All ticks are something to be wary of. All ticks are something that we want to avoid having attached to our skin and feeding on us,” Day said. “We’re kind of used to larger ones like the Lone Star tick or the American dog tick. Those are pretty easily identifiable, and you can see them pretty quickly.

The invasive longhorned tick has been in the news leading some people to wonder if it might be an issue for humans. Three cows died in Ohio due to the arachnids which have now been found in 20 states including Virginia. Tens of thousands of the ticks attacked the cows, and they died due to the blood loss. The ticks can can carry Anaplasma phagocytophilum which is a disease that can harm humans and animals.

So far there are few reports of the longhorned tick on humans, but it can cause issues with livestock, particularly cattle and sheep.

“There’s nothing good I can say about ticks,” said Day. “When you go outside, enjoy the outdoors but enjoy it carefully.”

Tips to keep ticks away

  • Avoid areas with tall grass, weedy growth. These are places where deer ticks are typically found where they have fallen off their deer host, and they are on the tall grass waiting to hitch a ride.
  • Avoid unnecessary walks in brushy or wooded environments
  • If you can, mow areas with tall grass
  • Wear protective clothing, long sleeves, long pants and tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants
  • Use tick repellents, things like DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus. There are various versions of permethrin that can be sprayed on clothing, that act essentially as an insecticide.

Learn more about common ticks found in Virginia.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.