Being concerned about ticks, and more importantly, contracting a virus from one, is usually something you’d think about during the warm, summer months, not in the middle of winter, but this year at Lawrence Township Recreational Park in Clearfield County, it is something to keep in mind.
92%, or 23 out of 25 of the sampled ticks at this park were positive for Deer Tick Virus. This is an abnormally high rate considering the previous highest DTV infection rate found at a single location in Pennsylvania was 11%. This level of infection and the disease itself are concerning.
The Deer Tick Virus is rare in the United States, but positive cases have increased within the past few years. Unlike other viruses spread from ticks, like Lyme disease, this one only takes as little as 15 minutes to transmit from tick to humans and it can end in fatality.
“It’s one of the most concerning viruses we’ve had in the state transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks and it is because of the severe neuroinvasive disease that it causes in 91% of people who develop symptoms and then in 12% of those people it ends in fatality so that’s why we’re concerned,” said, Christian Boyer, DEP Tick Specialist.
It’s a common misconception that ticks are not active in the winter, or die off due to the colder weather. When in reality, the snow cover actually helps them stay alive.
“If the temperature is above freezing those ticks will be actively seeking a host. So they crawl in vegetation and are waiting for something to latch onto. Now that there is snow cover, it actually acts as an insulator for ticks, it will kind of protect them, so even if it is 0 degrees at night or in 2 weeks, as long as that snow cover is there it’ll act as an insulator and won’t harm the tick population at all.” said, Christian Boyer, DEP Tick Specialist.
It’s important for people to consider ticks all times of the year, but especially now with the localized high infection rate of Deer Tick Virus. The DEP has already begun mitigation efforts at this park to remind people of that.
“What we did yesterday was we went to the park and hung signs dealing with tick awareness and tick prevention and personal protection. We are in the process of designing a deer tick virus specific sign,”
The next step is to collect more data from the ticks in the park.
“We intend to collect and test additional ticks from that site before we do control measures. After we implement control measures we will monitor the tick population to reduce it and break the cycle of the virus,” said Boyer.
Now that the disease is already spread within the tick population at the park, the most important thing to do is keep yourself safe when outside.
“The best thing that people can do when they’re out enjoying the outdoors is to stay in the center of trails, not along the edge habitat, that’s where ticks are in the vegetation waiting for someone to come by and rub against them and they’ll latch on. Wear light colored clothing, tuck your shirt into your pants, pants into socks. When returning home its very important to conduct tick checks on themselves to find any that might be crawling or latched on,”
The biggest thing to do, is to get a tick off yourself as quickly as possible and if you found one on yourself after visiting Lawrence Township Recreational Park, there’s no need to report it, but if you feel flu like symptoms and are concerned, the DEP recommends you visit your primary care physician to see what the next course of action may be.