There's nothing like a little unseasonably warm weather to spill us back out onto the sidewalks. But since we've had an unseasonably warm winter and a rather May-ish March, we haven't been alone in our instincts.
Ticks, specifically black-legged or deer, rarely found themselves dormant under snow drifts this year; and, after a warm March, they're active a month or two earlier than usual this spring, scientists and vets say.
Plus, after last year's boom in acorn production, with a significant drop this year hitting the mouse population hard, scientists suggest this year's ticks may be especially hungry for blood meals.
According to Newswise, the majority will be nymphs – ticks stuck between larvae youth and adulthood. “The last time (an acorn) surplus (2006) was followed by a dismal acorn crop (2007), nymphal tick numbers hit an all-time high,” according to the article. “Expect 2012 to be another record-setting year.”
Some predict a tick boom in 2014, too, due to the critter's two-year reproductive cycle.
I'll never forget the first tick I saw. I thought it was some sort of seed latched onto my husband's family dog, and when I realized what it was, I was genuinely horrified.
This would happen again and again, when I'd lay hands on a parasite engorged on his neck. (Hey, Scrapper does live near a field.) Once I learned ticks can lie in wait for months between meals, though, just waiting for a host to come by, I began to accept their presence, as I do the bacteria I've heard live on my eyelashes.
They just – are. And fear of them is fear of the outdoors.
Granted, knowing someone or someone's dog that has contracted a disease from a tick bite, or contracting it myself, could quickly change my mind. But the odds are in our favor: Lyme disease likely only affected 23 people in Ohio in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Compared to places like Pennsylvania (507), that's nothin'.
Ease your fears and learn all about how to properly remove a tick, plus disease transmission, symptoms and treatment at this link.
And despite the seemingly obvious conclusion that earlier-active ticks and dog-walkers may contribute to more incidents of the disease, the Centers for Disease Control suggests no bump.
So what to do when taking advantage of the next wave of beautiful weather?
In the woods in particular — where fashion is less important and the neighbors don't judge — wear clothes that would make them visible: long, light-colored pants with the cuffs tucked into your socks and sprayed with insect repellant. If you can help it, avoid tall grass and weeds.
Safe tick creams for your dog may deter the little suckers from latching, but talk to your vet before choosing one. The American Kennel Club recommends simply running your hands through its coat to find ticks while they're still crawling around. Within two hours of your walk, jump in the shower and throw your clothes into the wash and a high-temperature dry for your own safety.
Be mindful of extra scratching or growing tick torsos. And beyond that – just walk. It's lovely out. Really it is. And it's only getting lovelier now.