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It’s time of year to watch for blood suckers

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
Rodney Kreiser, a ranger with the N.C. Forest Service, spends much of his life in the great outdoors, stomping through woods and creeks, up hills and down into swamps.
He shares his workplace with a variety of critters ó poisonous snakes, bobcats, foxes and black bears, included.
That said, there’s only one creature that makes Kreiser’s heart skip a beat, and it certainly isn’t the biggest one out there. It’s the lowly tick.
“If there’s anything in the woods I fear, it’s ticks,” Kreiser said.
The reason, he said, are the diseases ó Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease ó the creatures carry. Both diseases have the potential to be serious.
Ticks, Kreiser said, don’t have to bite to transmit the diseases. If they’re on a human’s body for a few hours, he said, it’s possible for them to transmit those diseases.
“It’s the bacteria,” he said.
He returned to Rowan County from a bird identification workshop at Lake Jordan in Chatham County a few weeks ago and found three deer ticks on him.
Getting hard and fast figures on the number of ticks is nigh-on impossible, though most of those with ties to the great outdoors say there’s an abundance of the varmints in the woods these days.
A warm, wet spring probably added to their numbers, most agree. Some say the past few winters haven’t been especially harsh, which might also be a contributing factor.
In any event, the experts warn hikers, campers and anyone else spending time outside to watch for the blood-sucking arachnids.
Darrell Blackwelder, a horticulturist with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service of Rowan County, said he’s gotten a couple of phone calls this spring from people worried about ticks.
“Ticks are bad. They’re always bad,” Blackwelder said.
The region that follows Interstate 85 is generally regarded as “the tick belt,” with an abundance of diseases related to ticks diagnosed through this area, he added.
North Carolina recorded 544 cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever last year. In the past five years, the most cases reported in a single year ó 2005 ó was 827.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include fever, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, muscle pain and a loss of appetite. Later symptoms might include a rash, abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea.
Forty-seven cases of Lyme Disease were reported in North Carolina in 2007. In the past five years, the most cases came in 2003, with 141 cases.
Lyme Disease is characterized by a circular rash that can occur at the site of the tick bite in three to 30 days.
Blackwelder said he isn’t aware of a proliferation of ticks in the state, but that’s subject to change. “I haven’t heard of an outbreak, but it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said.
Blackwelder questioned, however, assumptions that the mild winters of recent years have had much of influence on the tick population.
If that theory holds true, it must also apply to other varmints of the wild ó mosquitoes, included, he reasoned.
But if you go to northern Canada, where winters are harsh and moisture plentiful, mosquitoes will all but carry you away during the summer months, he said.
On the other hand, if you go to states like New Mexico and Nevada, the winters are mild, but mosquitoes, ticks and similar pests are in much shorter supply.
“Moisture is more of a key than temperature,” he said.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.

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