The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 19, 2012

Insect has outdoor enthusiasts on high alert

— Ticks, those dreaded, bloodsucking insects that attach themselves without discrimination to humans, dogs, cats – just about anything warm – are more plentiful locally than in past years, officials say.

Sidman forester Michael Barton said the tick infestation in areas where he regularly treks is worse than he’s ever seen.

“They are bad. They are really bad,” Barton said.

As a forester, Barton spends much of his day in the woods among plenty of damp leaves, the ideal environment for ticks.

When he returns each evening, he thoroughly goes over his clothing and his body, removing and counting the ticks he is almost sure to pick up.

During one recent inspection, Barton said he set a new record, counting more than 200 ticks.

While doctors at Memorial Medical Center in Johns­town report no increase in human tick cases, veterinarians in Johns­town and central Cambria County said their numbers of tick cases have skyrocketed.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of them. Whether it’s calls or cases coming in,” said Jodi Blackwell at Hilltop Animal Hospital, 5377 Admiral Peary Highway in Cambria Township.

Dr. Karen Tiffany of Richland Veterinary Hospital, 1003 Eisenhower Blvd., has looked closely at the tick issue and admits she is baffled.

“It’s a big problem now, and we don’t know exactly why,” Tiffany said.

The thinking of some professionals is the unseasonably mild past winter allowed greater numbers of insects, including ticks, to survive, she said.

Also under consideration is a migration of ticks from east to west.

“But maybe it is also related to birds and bird migration. There are pockets on the West Coast seeing ticks,” Tiffany said.

Travis Anderson, a land management supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Southwest District, anticipates the number of tick reports will increase during the next few weeks as more hunters head into the woods.

Until recently, game commission workers were coming back from the woods with an average of 10 or 12 ticks on their clothing. That number was reduced when they started treating their outer garments with Permethrin, an insect repellent for outerwear available at sporting goods stores.

“I don’t think this past winter was severe enough to impact on the population,” Anderson said.

The spike in reported tick cases is not necessarily being seen statewide, said Penn State entomologist Steve Jacobs, who thinks the abnormal tick reports out of the Cambria-Somerset region may be an anomoly.

“I haven’t seen as many ticks coming in for identification,” Jacobs said.

The spotty distribution in terms of location perhaps could be explained by a large amount of leaf cover in the mountainous region.

“Typically, as adults the ticks drop into the leaves (on the ground), which are damp, almost 100 percent humidity,” Jacobs said. “Studies show that as the temperature rises and humidity declines there are fewer ticks.”

On the flip side of the warm-winter theory, Jacobs said a warm winter also could result in fewer ticks because the insects did not go dormant for long during late 2011 and early 2012 and died off after burning up their energy.

While there are 500 species of ticks and closely related mites worldwide, more than 25 species have been identified in Pennsylvania. Four species account for 90 percent of those submitted to Penn State, Jacobs reports on a Penn State Extension website.

Most feed on warm-blooded mammals, including humans.

 Some ticks are known for transmitting Lyme disease to humans and animals, according to the state Department of Health.

Dogs, humans and horses have commonly contracted the disease, Tiffany said, but so far there is no proof that cats get it.

“Cats get ticks, (but) they can’t get Lyme disease,” she said.

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