By Pat van den Beemt
They come home flush with the fresh air and exercise. But they also come home covered with ticks.
"I've always known there's ticks out there, but since I wasn't tromping through woods, just walking on the trail, I didn't think I'd find so many on me and my dog," he said. "My dog tested positive for Lyme disease, and I always find a couple on me. Now, I take my clothes off and put them in the washer as soon as I get back. They're everywhere. I think this is a bad year for them because of the mild winter."
Welling's theory is totally accurate, according to Karon Damewood, with Maryland's Department of Heath and Mental Hygiene. "A mild winter encourages great crops of ticks, and they don't need a lot of encouragement anyway. They have no natural predators, and can lay 2,000 to 5,000 eggs at a time. They are in abundance here in Maryland."
Damewood said that while most ticks are minor irritants, infected ticks can transmit Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
The state saw 608 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2001, with 22 of them in Baltimore County, she said. The county's cases of Lyme disease hit their peak in 1998 when 77 cases were confirmed.
Nobody knows how high the numbers will climb this year.
"Since you can't tell which ticks are infected, the best thing to do is to check yourself out from head to toe when you come in from outside," Damewood said. "Ticks can be found everywhere, from leaf litter and tall grass to wood piles. They aren't just in the woods. They're in your backyard, too."
She said ticks are attracted to warm-blooded mammals because they seek a carbon dioxide-producing host.
"They're looking for a blood meal, and we'll do just fine for that," she said.
Damewood said when a tick egg hatches into the larvae stage, it takes its first blood meal and that is when it can become infected. The longer a tick stays on its host, the more time it has to regurgitate blood back into the host's bloodstream.
If the tick is infected, the host becomes infected, too.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease appear anywhere from three to 32 days after a bite. A bull's-eye rash normally appears, and symptoms can include fever, headaches, tiredness, stiff neck and joint pain.
The best way to protect against ticks, Damewood said, is to use a tick repellent on clothes and skin that contains 20 to 30% DEET. Repellents are not recommended for young children.
In addition, people should wear light-colored clothing to make tick-spotting easier. Long-sleeve shirts and pants that are tucked into white socks provide a good tick barrier.
Maryland is one of five northeastern states attempting to kill the deer tick before it spreads Lyme disease.
Corn feeders have been set up to attract deer under a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. When the deer pushes its head in the feeder to eat the corn, its head and neck brush against two rollers filled with pesticide.
While the majority of infected ticks are tiny deer ticks, size is not the best way to identify a tick, said Gaye Williams with Maryland's Department of Agriculture.
"An engorged deer tick can be the same size as a small dog tick," she said.
Her office offers a free identification service. Simply put a tick - dead or alive - in a Ziplock bag and mail it to Williams at Maryland Department of Agriculture, Plant Protection Section, 50 Harry Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD 21401.
For more information on ticks or their diseases, go to the Web site: edcp.org. and click on "veterinary public health" or go to CDC.gov.