Tick-Borne Illnesses Could Be On The Rise In Illinois This Summer | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Tick-Borne Illnesses Could Be On The Rise In Illinois This Summer

Temperate weather in recent years has helped ticks grow their habitats, and experts predict the bugs — and the diseases they carry — will continue to show up more and more in the Chicago area.

Dr. Susan Little, a veterinary parasitologist at Oklahoma State University, joined Morning Shift’s Tony Sarabia to talk about why the Chicago area is seeing more ticks and what people need to know to keep themselves, and their pets, safe.

On what brought deer ticks to Chicago:

We had deforestation and reforestation over the last century, but the forests haven’t come back in the way they were before. They’re much more fragmented, split up and developed so there are a lot of limits on having a rich species diversity and because of that, the mice have been able to take advantage of that. Ticks do very well in a forested habitat with plenty of rodents and deer to feed on. All of that conspires to create a heavy tick population and an uptick in tick-borne illnesses.

On what people should know about checking for ticks:

  • Check frequently: Recommended daily, especially if hanging out in wooded areas. 
  • Find and remove them early: This limits the time ticks have to transmit diseases. With Lyme disease there’s a 24 hour window. If you can find the tick, and remove it quickly, transmission is unlikely. For viral infections, transmission can be much faster.
  • Know the site preferences: The Lonestar tick prefers areas below the waist. These ticks are most common in southern states, but have moved up to the North recently and are present in Illinois. Over the last few years people have been spotting them in the Chicago area. The American dog tick prefers to attach to the scalp and the head. The deer tick can attach anywhere but tends to go for the legs. Also, it’s a misconception that ticks fall from trees. They typically crawl up from the ground or are lingering on tall grass.
  • Shake off your clothes: These little guys are stealthy. They crawl on our clothes and since they prefer thinner skinned areas on our bodies, they’ll crawl along clothing closest to our skin and then they’ll work their mouth parts in. When they attach, they secrete a very complex saliva that sort of numbs the skin. So if they cut through the skin and form that attachment they’re going to feed for several days. Adult ticks, if they have their way, can stay for weeks.

On how they get onto pets

An adult female tick will lay 3,000 to 10,000 eggs, which hatch larvae. If you or your pet happens to step where those larvae are, you can have hundreds of what are called “feed ticks” stuck to your body or paw. 

On the infections humans can get from ticks

  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tularemia
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Babesiosis

EXPLORE MORE: Beyond Lyme: New Tick-Borne Diseases On The Rise In U.S.

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