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Virginians Seeing Increase In Ticks This Year

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A gray striped cat is not at all pleased to find himself in the waiting room of Roanoke Animal Hospital. He's an outdoor cat and although his owners say they've seen deer in their neighborhood, cats appear to be resistant to diseases from ticks that feed on deer and other mammals – including humans.

Veterinarian Mark Finkler is seeing more ticks on dogs this year, and more of his clients are testing positives for tick-borne diseases.

"Lyme disease is what we're seeing right now," says Finkler. "We do see some ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Fortunately we have not seen any Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever yet."

The Lone Star tick and the American Dog tick are the most prevalent in Virginia. Black Legged ticks, also called the Deer ticks, carry Lyme disease, but aren't as common as others.

Ticks can be found in forests or in a field near the edge of a forest. They lie and wait in bushes and grass for the unsuspecting passerby to brush against them so they can catch a ride.

This year's wet spring was especially conducive for ticks.

Virginia Tech grad student Jake Bova is seeing that first-hand this year at Jefferson National Forest, where he's spending the summer identifying ticks and testing them for Lyme disease.

"We've seen a huge increase in Ixodes scapularis, which is the black legged tick," says Bova. "And these ticks are the primary vector of Lyme disease. And so we're looking for them and in some areas that we have high prevalence of it, of Lyme disease, we’re going to get a high prevalence of the vector."

Bova says sometimes hunters will find ticks and send them to him.

"But we've also been getting them off people. We’ve also been getting them off of pets. People send them into us and we identify them. But we've definitely seen an increase in the number of ticks in the area."

He also says a lack of surveillance data from different parts of the state make identifying them difficult.

State public health entomologist David Gaines says to know for sure, they would have to set up standardized collection sites around the Commonwealth for many years. Differing weather conditions would also affect the count.

"The number would change from one part of the state to another because some parts of the state have weather that's more conducive to ticks whereas other parts may not."

Ticks are always prevalent in Virginia, more so in the spring. Health officials say if you plan to be in a tick-infested area, put on tick spray, tuck your shirt into your pants, and your pants into your socks, and then check for ticks when you get home.

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