Because of the extra-mild winter this year, the early spring could bring an unwelcome guest: the tick. Be warned: The warmer weather is good news for people and pets who want to be outside, but beware of an uptick of the hard-to-detect pest.
The basic reason is that the eggs will hatch sooner. "Eggs are already in the ground, but this is the time that they will be coming out in great numbers," said Pollie Rueda, an entomologist stationed at the Smithsonian and Walter Reed Army institute of Research. He noted that the normal tick season is from May through August, but with the 70-degree temperatures in some places, the ticks may get a jump on the season.
Ticks that are already out and about are the visible adult, sesame-sized ones, noted Kristen Nordlund of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Think of these little buggers as the arachnid form of vampires. They hang out in blades of grass for a host to come along -- a mouse, a dog, or a human -- to attach themselves and feed off your blood over days, or until discovered, and they often leave disease behind -- sometimes multiple illnesses.
The big concern for humans, according to the CDC, is that most tick infections occur during the "nymph" stage. Those recently hatched ticks are the size of the period at the end of this sentence, and they have four sets of legs and the ability to suck your blood. Because they are essentially invisible, preying on a host can easily go undetected.
In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. Infections from ticks, such as Lyme disease (plus babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and anaplasmosisis), are on the rise and are difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are awful: from headaches to long-term joint pain and even heart problems.
Since 1992, the cases of Lyme disease have doubled, according to the CDC, and more than 21,000 cases are reported every year.
The CDC is conducting tests on actual households to confirm if spraying a pesticide in the backyard helps to reduce the incidence of human disease. Check its website for good information on preventive measures.