Ticks and winter; why you should still be protecting yourself and your pets

Ticks are still active in the winter

ROANOKE, Va. – Although snow and cold is part of the forecast this weekend, some outdoor pests are still a problem right now. High tick populations have hit southwest Virginia hard.

While people living in southwest Virginia are no strangers to ticks, you may be surprised to know that these parasites can survive and be active in winter weather. Dr. David Bruce, a veterinarian in Roanoke said to check your pets each time they come indoors.

"Even in the dead of winter dogs will turn up and get into a nest of these things and be covered with small ticks."

Bruce said due to changes in tick populations. It's not uncommon to find them this time of year.

"Ten years ago it would have been (hard to find ticks in winter), but the tick population here is changing,” Bruce said. “We used to have primarily the southern tick, the lone star tick, the brown dog tick and those guys would go into the ground during the winter and not be active. Over the past 10 years or so, we've seen an uptick of the northern tick, commonly called the deer tick. They are active even in the wintertime."

Deer ticks are most notorious for carrying Lyme disease, and winter weather isn't stopping the spread of that either.

Between 2012 and 2016 more than 5,000 cases of Lyme disease was reported nationwide to the CDC during month of March. Virginia is among the most prevalent areas where cases are reported. Bruce said the trend is only expected to get worse.

"If you check the CDC statistics for our area, we are borderline to a Lyme endemic area where we can expect within the next 5 to 10 years we are just going to be in Lyme central."

Bruce said on the pet side of prevention, there is a newer vaccine that can protect your pet from contracting Lyme especially before they are bitten.

"The vaccine shows some promise to actually clear the organism,” Bruce said. 

Bruce offers the vaccine at his clinic Read Mountain Vet Clinic in Roanoke.

Places prone to ticks:

  • Areas where there is a heavy deer population. The more deer in an area, the more ticks.
  • Areas with dense trees, high grass and thick, bushy vegetation.
  • Trails that are not heavily traveled.
  • Piles of leaves, heavy foliage.

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