Environment
9:29 pm
Sun March 30, 2014

Snow, Ice May Not Be Enough to Kill Off Ticks

The long, severe winter made a mess of the school calendar, brought down trees throughout the Triad and generally wreaked havoc all over the Piedmont. But will that winter weather at least have a bright side of keeping down the tick population?

State-by-state incidence of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
State-by-state incidence of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Credit Map courtesy CDC

Dr. Christopher Ohl doesn’t think so. Ohl is an infectious diseases expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

He says that because the life cycle of the tick can span more than a year, one harsh season isn’t likely to have too much of an impact. Snow can actually have an insulating effect that protects them. Ohl says year-to-year variations in Piedmont tick populations may have more to do with moisture than temperature. And because of that, this year may you may be seeing more of them.

"So if you get a lot of snow that melts, that keeps the ground moist and you get a lot of rain in the spring, which is what it seems to be turning into this year for us and it actually could mean a bigger tick population," Ohl says.

Ohl says the Piedmont region is a national hotbed for the tick-borne disease called Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Wilkes County has the most cases. Symptoms include headache and fever a week or two after the tick bite.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever can usually be treated easily once identified. Left untreated though, it can lead to serious problems and may require hospitalization. Lyme disease, which is also associated with tick bites, is not prevalent in our area. Ohl says with the winter ending, the tick season is already upon us.

"Generally as we get into April tick activity starts to increase." Ohl says, "Once the temperature gets consistently above 40 degrees they start to get active. So it's time to start thinking about ticks right about now."

The Center for Disease Control has a resource page with information about ticks and how to keep them away.