Health

Though Kentucky doesn’t have as big of a problem with tick-borne diseases as some areas in the northeast, a tick expert is warning residents to be on the lookout as the summer kicks off.

Lee Townsend studies insects at the University of Kentucky. He said while there were only 16 cases of Lyme disease in Kentucky in 2016, and even fewer cases of other tick-related diseases, the numbers could grow because of a few different factors.

Lyme disease is the most notable tick-borne disease, perhaps because of the seriousness of the illness. Even after treatment, symptoms can last for years, including fevers, headaches and fatigue. But there have been limited cases in Kentucky. That’s because the tick that can carry and transmit the disease – the blacklegged tick – is just beginning to show up in Kentucky.

“So during mild winters, a greater percentage would survive winters,” Townsend said. “Our amounts of rain haven’t increased very much but the pattern of when those rains occur has. And ticks don’t like humidity. So cooler, rainier periods are going to favor their survival.”

Another tick that’s much more common in Kentucky is the lone star tick. Townsend said this tick can carry other diseases, like ehrlichiosis.

“The symptoms are relatively mild,” he said. “It’s more like the symptoms of a summer cold. There are probably people who have come into contact with ticks and not realized what they had.”

Townsend said the government started tracking ehrlichiosis recently, and because many people think they’ve just got a summer cold, it’s likely underreported.

Townsend said using insect repellent can be effective in avoiding tick bites, as well as wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts.

“People that live in areas where the grass is mowed have less chance of encountering ticks,” Townsend said. “People that live around wooded areas or overgrown areas where there’s wildlife, that’s where you’re likely to find ticks.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.