Tick Species Found in Franklin County: Life Stages, Disease Risk and Habitat
Black-legged Tick- Black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) often referred to as Deer ticks are abundant in Pennsylvania and Franklin County. They are a tick of high concern as related to public health. Black-legged ticks can carry a host of pathogens that can be transferred to humans, most notably the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease. Adults are active in the fall and throughout the winter (if temperatures are above freezing) until early summer and are found mostly in forested areas and the forest edge. Nymphs are active in the spring through late summer and are found in forest understory leaf litter.
Associated Pathogens: Borrelia burgdoeferi, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia microti, Borrelia miyamotoi, and Deer Tick Virus (Powassan lineage II).
Tick size relative to a dime.
American Dog Tick- The American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is another tick commonly found throughout Pennsylvania and Franklin County. Adults are active during the spring through summer and are found in woody, shrubby, long grass areas. Nymphs are active in the spring and are also found in the same type of habitat as the adults. The most notable disease associated with this tick is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Rickettsia rickettsii).
Associated Pathogens:Rickettsia rickettsia and Francisella tularensis
Lone Star Tick- Lone Star ticks (Amblyomma americanum) have been found throughout certain areas of Franklin County and Pennsylvania. Although not as abundant as the American Dog or Black Legged Tick there is still a chance to encounter this tick. Adults are active during the spring through late summer and are found in woodlands with dense undergrowth. Nymphs are active in the spring to mid-summer and prefer leaf litter and also have a preference for sandy soil. The most notable condition associated with a Lone Star tick bite is its ability to elicit an allergic reaction to red meat known as Alpha-gal syndrome.
Associated Pathogens: Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlichia ewingii, Francisella tularensis, and Alpha-gal syndrome
Asian Longhorned Tick- The Asian Longhorned tick is an invasive species from Asia and was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2018. Many established populations have since been found in southeastern Pennsylvania and one specimen of the species has been collected in Franklin County. Adults are active in the summer months and prefer long grasses while the nymphs are active spring through summer and also prefer long grasses. Currently there are no known human pathogens that occur in North America.
Gulf Coast Tick- The Gulf Coast tick has been found sporadically throughout Pennsylvania’s history with no current established population. In 2020 a single specimen was collected in Franmklin County. The Gulf Coast tick typical range is along the Atlantic coast stretching from Texas to Maryland. This tick is uncommon to the region, and due to this, it is currently unknown what times of the year the life stages are most active. In their typical home range, adults are active late spring to fall and prefer tall grass and wooded edges while the nymphs are active late fall to the spring.
Associated Pathogens: Rickettsia parkeri
Winter Tick- The Winter tick is also known as the Moose Tick, due to that in the New England states there have been documented cases of wild moose being so infested with this species of tick, that they become exsanguinated and die. Winter tick larvae have been collected in Franklin County and are likely widespread throughout Pennsylvania. Winter Ticks prefer forested habitat as this is where their primary host in Pennsylvania, the white-tailed deer, is found. Currently Winter ticks are not known to spread any pathogens to humans and rarely choose a human as their host.
Prevent Tick Bites
Preventing tick bites has never been more important. There are things that can be done before entering and exiting tick habitat. It is important to adhere to all guidance to decrease your chances for a tick bite.
Tick Prevention Before Entering Habitat
Permethrin- Products containing 0.5% permethrin. The most common product containing this active ingredient is Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent, which is used to treat clothes, but should not be sprayed on skin (always follow instructions on the label). Clothes should be placed on an outside line, sprayed, and allowed to dry. The product works when the permethrin makes a strong bond with the fibers in the clothing, which can last up to 6 weeks or 6 washings. The permethrin not only deters ticks from crawling on clothes, but it also kills them if they were to come in contact with the treated clothes.
DEET- Research has shown that insect repellents containing DEET are effective at repelling ticks. Like sunscreen, the higher percentage of DEET concentration, the longer the product will last. If planning to spend time outside in tick habitat for an hour or two, a lower concentration of DEET may be used. A higher concentration may be used if spending a longer duration outside (always follow instructions on the label). It is important to note that DEET does not kill ticks, it simply repels them. DEET products used as directed should not be harmful to use on the skin and clothes. However, DEET can damage some clothing especially those containing plastic materials.
Dress- When entering tick habitat, proper dress is important. Dark colored ticks are easier to spot on light background, therefore wearing a light colored long sleeve shirt and pants are recommended. Additionally, tucking shirts into pants and pants into socks ensures the tick will have a harder time finding skin and decreases the likelihood of a bite.
Tick Bite Prevention After Exiting Habitat
Removal of Clothes- When returning home from tick habitat, outer garments should be removed in the garage or somewhere not in the main part of the house. Never remove your clothes and leave them in a hamper. Any ticks remaining on your clothes can crawl off and be in your home. Transfer clothes to the washer, (or dryer if they are not dirty) and run them on high heat for 10 minutes. The dryer’s high heat will kill any ticks on clothes that have hitched a ride.
Shower and Tick Check- The final step is to take a shower and do a tick check. Pay particular attention to areas around the: hair, ears, armpits, belly button, around waist, between legs, and back of the knees.
Mitigating Habitat Around Property – If you live near a wooded, brushy, or high grass area your risks for ticks around the home are greater. To reduce your chance of coming in contact with a tick on your property the following steps can be taken.
- Avoid areas with trees, brush, or tall grass
- Use a 3 foot barrier of wood chips or small stones to separate the surrounding tick habitat from your yard.
- Keep any fire wood piles on the 3 foot barrier.
- Keep a 9 foot barrier between the 3 foot barrier and place anything like a swing set or garden after the 9 foot barrier. Essentially do your backyard activities the farthest away from tick habitat as possible.
- Try to plant gardens with deer resistant produce, so they don’t bring any ticks directly to the garden
- Keep your yard sunny and open. Ticks do not do well in direct sunlight so the more direct sunlight reaching your yard the less hospitable it is for ticks.
Lyme Disease and Other Diseases
The following is a list of known pathogens and diseases that are transmitted by ticks found in the south-central region. This list may not include all known pathogens that ticks can vector. If you have been bitten by a tick you may want to seek a medical professional. To learn more about tick borne illnesses please visit https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html
Lyme Disease- Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne illness in Pennsylvania with over 10,000 cases being reported each year. The disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted from a bite Black-legged tick. Testing across the county and state have determined that roughly 25% of the Blacklegged tick nymphs and 50% of the adults carry this bacterium. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a tick generally must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before it can transmit the B. burgdorferi. The sooner a tick can be removed the less likely tick the less likely the pathogen will be transmitted.
Signs and Symptoms- The incubation period for Lyme Disease can be between 3-30 days. Early signs and symptoms may include a bull’s eye rash around the bite area (occurring in 70% of patients), fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. The late-stage symptoms include arthritis, numbness, pain, nerve paralysis, and problems with memory and concentration. If you are experiencing these symptoms or are have been bitten by a Black-legged tick it is best to talk with your doctor.
Co-Infections- Black-legged ticks can carry and transmit other pathogens at the same time as the Lyme Disease pathogen. However, those other pathogens are present at a lower percentage then B. burgdorferi. Those other pathogens include Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia microti, and Deer Tick Virus. For more information on these pathogens and the diseases they cause, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html
Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis- In the eastern United States, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF, Rickettsia rickettsia) is most often transmitted by the American Dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis). RMSF is not a very common disease; however, it has been on the rise with 6,248 cases reported nationwide in 2017. Symptoms include a rash typically appearing 2-5 days after the bite, high fever, severe headache, discomfort, muscle pain, edema, and upset stomach. RMSF can be life threatening, so it is important to seek medical attention if any of these symptoms develop. Rickettsia parkeri causes another spotted fever Rickettsiosis which is a milder version of RMSF but displays many of the same symptoms. The pathogen is associated with a bite from the Gulf Coast Tick. (Amblyomma maculatum) and is almost always associated with an inoculation eschar.
Ehrlichiosis- Ehrlichiosis is caused by three different pathogens Ehrlichia chaffeensis, Ehrlicha ewingii, and Ehrlichia muris euclairensis. Ehrlichiosis is relatively uncommon in the United States with around 1800 cases reported nationwide in 2018. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, upset stomach, altered mental status, and rash (more commonly reported among children) The most common tick responsible with transferring E. chaffeensis and E. ewingii is the Lone Star tick, while the Black-legged tick is responsible for transmission of E. muris euclairensis.
Alpha Gal Syndrome- Alpha Gal Syndrome (AGS) is a condition in which a person develops a meat allergy to mammals. People with AGS will usually develop a rash or hives 3-6 hours after consumption of certain types of meat. Other symptoms may include upset stomach, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, and dizziness. Research is being conducted linking the syndrome to the bites of Lone Star and Black-legged ticks. What causes AGS from tick bites and why some people develop it while others do not is still under investigation.
Tularemia- Tularemia (Francisella tularensis) is a rare disease that can be transferred by the Lone Star and American Dog tick. In 2018 only 229 cases were reported across the United States. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, anorexia, pain in muscles, cough, sore throat, and upset stomach.
How to Remove a Tick
It is important to know and understand how to remove a tick if one is attached to you or a pet. Removing a tick the proper way reduces the likelihood of a tick transferring pathogens. Improper removal of a tick can lead to regurgitation of stomach contents into your body. Agitating or squeezing the body of the tick heightens the risk of the regurgitation and pathogen transmission. Following these steps is the safest way to remove a tick.
1. Use fine tipped tweezers and pinch down as close to the ticks head and mouth parts as you can get, never grasps the ticks abdomen.
2. Once you have a grasp on the ticks head pull straight up with even pressure.
3. After removing the tick, clean the bite area really good as well as your hands and tweezers with either rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
4. Do not attempt to kill the tick with your fingers. You can put it in alcohol, in a sealed container or flush it down the toilet.
Get Your Tick Tested- The Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania offers free (Basic Panel) tick testing for various pathogens for Pennsylvania residents. For more information visit https://www.ticklab.org/
Resources and References
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
The American Mosquito Control Association
Pennsylvania Department of Health
Centers for Disease Control
Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania