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Tick Populations 'Absolutely Astronomical' in Ohio and Connecticut

May 18, 2013 11:39 AM EDT

Rising tick populations in the America have reached possible record numbers, with some people reporting seeing more this spring than ever before. The numbers have prompted worry, as ticks carry a number of scary pathogens.

Wildlife biologist Scott Williams of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station told Outside magazine that one part of his state along the eastern bank of the Connecticut River is spectacularly infested.

"You get absolutely astronomical abundance here-maybe 1,000 ticks an acre," said Williams.

Further west in Ohio, tick populations are booming as well.

"The crazy wet, cool early spring weather had all of the ticks bunched up," Glen Needham, a tick specialist at Ohio State University, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "When the warm weather arrived, it was a case of ticks on steroids. People have been reporting they'd never seen this many ticks."

Needham said tick populations have been on the rise in the Buckeye state for the past decade.

Ticks can pass on a variety of pathogens to animals and humans who get bitten. Most famously, Lyme Disease (named after the town Lyme, Conn., where it was first discovered) is spread by the blacklegged deer tick. The town Lyme is not far from the Connecticut River spot where Williams is researching the current infestation.

But ticks carry other diseases as well. In 1893 veterinarians discovered that ticks harbor an amoeba-like pathogen that killed cows by the thousands. The condition, called babesiosis, can cause Lyme-like symptoms in humans. A recent report estimated 4,000 Americans will contract babesiosis this year.

To avoid contracting any pathogens from ticks, it is important to be vigilant in checking yourself for ticks when outdoors.

"The longer a tick is attached, the more likely it will pass along disease. It's very important to check yourself, children and pets after spending any time outdoors," said Needham.

Needham said dogs are the first to offer clues that an area is infested with ticks.

"Dogs are the canary in the coal mine for tick infestations. Veterinarians are the first to know when tick numbers are on the rise."

"I had a hunting dog in the office recently suffering from polyarthritis, or multiple joint pain," veterinarian Marc Toennies at the Rocky River Animal Hospital told the Plain Dealer.

"That dog tested positive for four tick diseases: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. With treatment, the dog was healthy again in a short time."

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