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Tickborne Diseases in Ohio

Be Tick Smart!

Diseases spread by ticks are an increasing concern in Ohio and are being reported to the Ohio Department of Health more frequently in the past decade, with Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) being the most common.  Other tickborne diseases such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis are also on the rise.  Though rare, diseases such as tularemia, southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) and Powassan virus may also be carried by Ohio ticks.

The Zoonotic Disease Program tracks and responds to tickborne diseases.  We collect and analyze data to detect trends in disease activity, investigate reported cases of tickborne diseases, collaborate with other state agencies and educate Ohioans about disease risks and prevention strategies.

Prevent tick bites

The best way to to prevent tickborne diseases is to prevent tick bites.  In Ohio, tickborne illnesses are most often transmitted between early spring and late fall since ticks are most active during warm months.

Take action to decrease your risk of infection: protect against tick bites, check for ticks, remove ticks as soon as you can, and watch for symptoms.

PROTECT against tick bites

Avoid areas where ticks live.

  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Walk in the center of trails.
  • Take extra precautions in spring, summer and fall when ticks are most active.

Use tick repellents.

  • Use insect repellents registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeled for use against ticks on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.  Always follow the product label.  Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth.
  • Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.  It remains protective through several washings.  Always follow the product label.  Pre-treated clothing is available and may provide longer lasting protection.

Cover up to keep ticks off your body.

  • Wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and tuck shirts into pants to keep ticks on the outside of your clothing.
  • Light-colored clothing will help you spot ticks more easily.

CHECK for ticks

Don't let ticks hitchhike inside on your clothing.

  • Remove ticks from your clothes before going indoors.
  • Examine gear and pets.  Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dyer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors.  If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.  If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended.

Check your whole body for ticks.

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to more easily find and wash off any ticks that may be crawling on you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas.  Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair.

REMOVE ticks as soon as you can

Diagram: Tick removalUse a removal method that is proven to work.

  • The best way to remove a tick is to use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
  • Pull away from your skin with steady, even pressure.
  • Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.  If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers.  If you are unable to remove the mouth-parts easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.  Never crush a tick with your fingers.
  • Wash your hands and the bite area with soap and water.
  • Do not use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish or any other 'folk' remedies to remove a tick.  These methods do not work.

Please view the video below on properly removing a tick:

WATCH for symptoms

Many tickborne diseases can have similar signs and symptoms.  The most common symptoms of tick-related illnesses are:

Tickborne diseases can result in mild symptoms treatable at home to severe infections requiring hospitalization.  Although easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose.  However, early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.  So see your healthcare provider immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience any of the symptoms described here.

Ticks in Ohio

Common ticks found in OhioThere are about a dozen species of ticks that have been identified in Ohio.  However, most species are associated with wild animals and are rarely encountered by people.  Three species, the American dog tick, the blacklegged tick and the lone star tick, are among the most likely ticks to be encountered by people or pets and are described below.  All three of these species are of significant public health importance and are responsible for nearly all tickborne diseases reported to the Ohio Department of Health.

Take action to decrease your risk of infection.  Wear repellent containing up to 30 percent DEET, check your body daily for ticks and limit your exposure to ticks and tick habitats.

American dog tick

Name:  American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis).American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis

Distribution:  Throughout Ohio.

Habitat:  Grassy fields, clearing and other areas with little tree cover.

Hosts:  Small rodents and medium-sized wild mammals, domestic cats, dogs and humans.

Transmits:  Rocky Mountain spotted fever and, rarely, tularemia in Ohio.

Active:  April through September.

Comments:  Adult females are the most likely to bite humans.

Blacklegged tick

Name:  Blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis).Blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapulis

Distribution:  Blacklegged ticks have been submitted to the Ohio Department of Health from 70 Ohio counties.  It is most common in the eastern and southeastern counties, but is likely to occur in suitable wooded, brushy habitat throughout the state.

Map: Blacklegged tick distribution in Ohio

Habitat:  Wooded and brushy areas.

Hosts:  White-footed mice, deer mice, chipmunks, shrews and white-tailed deer.

Transmits:  Lyme diseaseanaplasmosis, babesiosis and Powassan virus disease.

As part of an ongoing investigation by the Ohio Department of Health, a total of 360 female blacklegged ticks collected in 33 counties between Apr. 4, 2019 and Jan. 14, 2020 were tested for various pathogens by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Vectorborne Diseases.  The map below shows the counties where the ticks were collected and where the pathogens were detected.  Note: These pathogens could be present in blacklegged ticks in other parts of Ohio, and this study serves only to confirm the presence of these pathogens in ticks in the counties indicated.

Map: Pathogens detected in blacklegged ticks in Ohio

Active:  In Ohio, blacklegged tick activity fluctuates throughout the year.  After laying low during the cold winter months, these ticks usually become active in late March or early April.  Their peak activity typically occurs in May and June when the nymphs are looking for a host.  Tick activity increases once again in October and November when adult ticks are looking for another host before cold winter temperatures set in once again.  Although blacklegged tick activity typically follows this pattern, it is important to note that these ticks might be encountered at any time of the year when the temperature is above freezing.

Graph: Blacklegged tick activity by stage

Comments:  Adult females and nymphs are the most likely to bite humans.

Lone star tick

Lone star tick, Ambylomma americanumName:  Lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum).

Distribution:  Throughout Ohio, but are more commonly encountered in the southern half of the state.

Habitat:  Woodlands with plenty of undergrowth.

Hosts:  Squirrels, raccoons, deer, cattle, some bird species, dogs and humans.

Transmits:  Ehrlichiosis in Ohio.

Active:  April through September.

Comments:  A very aggressive tick that bites humans.  The nymphs and adult females most frequently bite humans and transmit disease.  Larvae cannot transmit disease.

What time of year are you more likely to encounter ticks?

While some ticks, such as the blacklegged tick, can be active nearly all year round in one stage or another, most encounters with ticks occur in spring through mid-summer and again in fall.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I see my healthcare provider or go to the emergency room to have a tick removed?

You do not need to go to your healthcare provider or to the emergency room to have a tick removed.  Most of the time, you can remove a tick safely and correctly using the method described in the Prevent Tick Bites section.  If you have trouble removing the tick or if you can't reach the part of your body where the tick is attached, try asking a family member or friend to help.  Make sure they review the removal method in the Prevent Tick Bites section first!

Should I get antibiotics after a tick bite?

Generally, infectious disease experts do not recommend the routine use of antibiotics following a tick bite in Ohio as a way to prevent tickborne diseases.  This type of treatment, called post-exposure prophylaxis, is sometimes used in states with high incidence of Lyme disease, such as some New England states, but is not recommended in low incidence states such as Ohio.

Should I get the tick tested?

Some people are interested in having ticks that they removed from themselves or loved ones tested for various tickborne diseases.  The Ohio Department of Health does not recommend tick testing under these circumstances for the following reasons:

  • You may not have been infected.  Even if a tick is infected and tests positive, it may not have transmitted the infection to you.
  • It might delay treatment.  Tick test results take several days and may not be available in time to make a prompt healthcare decision.
  • You may have other tick bites that you don't know about.  Most people who are infected with tickborne diseases do not recall a tick bite.  Therefore, if someone were to develop symptoms of tickborne disease, there would be no way to know whether the infection was from a known tick bite or another unknown tick bite.  For example, if a tick is tested and the result is negative, you could still have been bitten by another infected tick, not know it, and develop symptoms of tickborne disease.
  • Tests performed on ticks are not always perfect.  All laboratory tests have the possibility of false positive or false negative results.  Even with a negative result, people should still monitor themselves for the appearance of a rash, fever and other flu-like symptoms.  If any of these symptoms occur, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Some private laboratories offer tick testing, but the Ohio Department of Health does not collect ticks from the public and test them for tickborne diseases.