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READ ABOUT OUR OWN DR. LEE PICKETT IN THE READING EAGLE

Tick time

June 12, 2012, 12:31 a.m. EDT
Reading Eagle
Ticks are everywhere this summer, and experts say the weather and a shortage of white-footed mice are to blame. Disease-carrying insects that burrow under human and animal skin, ticks are exothermic. That means they get their energy from heat. So the mild winter and pleasant spring has boosted the area’s tick population, said Dr. Kenneth DeBenedictis, director of epidemiology, infection control and prevention at Reading Hospital. Ticks live on the blood of mammals, and mainly the white-footed mouse, DeBenedictis said. But because oak trees produced fewer acorns last fall, something that fluctuates from year to year for unknown reasons, there are fewer of the mice, so more ticks are latching onto humans and pets for nourishment. And with many people enjoying the good weather, DeBenedictis recommends that everyone aggressively protect themselves from ticks. “The habitat here is extremely friendly for ticks,” he said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it’s best to apply insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET, an oil that repels ticks. Those spending time outdoors should also conduct a full-body tick check with a mirror and wash off as soon as they go inside. Pennsylvania is a main breeding ground for ticks because of the state’s high population of “tick food,” like deer, mice and squirrels, DeBenedictis said. Ticks are dangerous because they carry Lyme disease and the less-common Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease initially causes fever, headache, fatigue, and a rash, according to the CDC, and can lead to heart, joint, and nervous system complications if left untreated. Rocky Mountain spotted fever comes with similar symptoms, but can be fatal if not treated within the first few days of noticeable irritation. Over the past decade in Pennsylvania, 2,000 to 6,000 cases of Lyme disease were reported each year, while 20,000 to 30,000 were reported nationwide in those years, the CDC reported. In Berks County, 518 cases were reported to the state Department of Health between 2007 and 2009, the latest years for which figures are available. Ticks are a big problem for pets in Berks County, said Dr. Lee Pickett, a veterinarian at Bernville Veterinary Clinic. She said most dogs that have been infected with Lyme disease come to her office limping from one leg to another, and can suffer from a fever and loss of appetite. Cats rarely get the disease, she said. “After (pets) go for a walk, run fingers through their hair and coat,” Pickett recommended. “Also, use a fine-toothed flea comb on the dog to pull out the ticks.” Since ticks thrive among vegetation, the CDC recommends that people keep their yards free of leaf litter, mow the lawn often and treat grass and plants with acaricide, a tick pesticide. DeBenedictis said people visiting other parts of the country, especially states in the north-central U.S., should also be wary of tick bites. “When people go on vacation, they forget,” he said. “They don’t bring caution with them.”