If you're among the Ohioans spotting ticks already (hopefully, not on your skin), you know the disease-carrying mites have gotten off to an early start this season.
In fact, the tick season probably started more than a month ago, in mid-March -- a little early thanks to a fairly mild winter and an early spring that kept the soil warm, said tick expert Glen Needham, an associate professor emeritus of entomology at Ohio State University. Ticks spend the winter in the soil.
"When I see my first dog tick, that's the first day of spring," Needham said.
Ohio Department of Health entomologist Rich Gary also cited the mild winter for people seeing see more ticks.
"We've had a mild winter and that will lead to a higher survival rate of ticks and possibly more ticks for people to encounter in the spring," Gary said.
The overall population of dog ticks, lone star ticks and deer ticks in Ohio might not be much different this year. The population is impossible to estimate because no one tracks their numbers in Ohio, but trends over time do show that ticks -- and the Lyme disease that deer ticks can transmit to dogs and humans -- are on the rise, both entomologists said.
Ohio had 42 probable cases of Lyme disease in 2010, a year when deer ticks were found only in Coshocton and Ashtabula counties. Last year, according to Ohio Department of Health data, there were 156 probable cases -- up from 154 in 2015 -- and deer ticks were found in most of the state's 88 counties. The numbers likely underestimate the prevalence of Lyme disease because it can be difficult to diagnose, Needham and Gary added.
If you're going to be outside, put on tick repellent that's labeled for ticks and suitable for skin.
Wear light clothing (dark-colored ticks show up better), including long-sleeved shirts tucked into pants to lessen chances a tick will crawl inside and onto your skin.
Afterward, perform a full-body tick check.
If you find a tick, pull it off with tweezers, plop it into alcohol (Needham recommends a bottle of hand sanitizer) to kill and preserve it so you can bring it to your doctor should you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms that could be the early signs of Lyme disease.
Finally, monitor yourself for symptoms if you have found a tick on your skin.
Deer ticks can transmit not only Lyme disease, but a disease similar to malaria. "People could get more than one disease from one tick bite," Needham said.
Lyme disease shows up as a bull's-eye shaped rash at the bite site and symptoms can include fever, chills and headache. If untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dog ticks, which are the most common tick in Ohio and are found mainly in the southern two-thirds of the state and along Lake Erie, carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Ohio had 24 reported fever cases last year, up from 12 in 2015, according to state data.
Lone star ticks transmit a different disease that's similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever and affects dogs and people.
"This tick is becoming more common in central Ohio too," Needham said. "As we have milder winters, we'll probably see more and more lone star ticks. We collected one lone star tick on the OSU campus last year."