Apesky little parasite can cause big problems for people and pets.
It's summer in Oklahoma, when bloodsucking ticks pose the greatest health risk.
More cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever — one disease spread by ticks — are seen in Oklahoma from April through September, said Justin Talley, an entomologist at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
Additional rainfall this year, compared with the past several years, has helped the tick population increase.
Lyme disease, also spread by ticks, is not as common in Oklahoma, Talley said. But it has been reported here.
A Perkins man said he has been battling chronic Lyme disease for eight years.
Danny Bryant, 57, found the head of a tick embedded in his abdomen in 2005 after working outside. The concrete worker, who lives in a rural area, started suffering from vision and balance problems, as well as chronic fatigue.
Doctors did not agree what the cause was, but a Stillwater doctor prescribed antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease. That worked.
But when he stopped taking the antibiotics, Bryant suffered recurrences of the symptoms, including joint and muscle aches.
His wife, Kaye Escott, 58, asked doctors to keep treating her husband for Lyme disease.
Now Bryant is on a long-term antibiotic and has improved. He has been able to return to work outdoors in the heat this summer.
“I'm 75 percent to 100 percent healthy today,” Bryant said.
“Lyme disease is real in Oklahoma,” Escott said. “It's not just in the northeast. It can be spread here.”
Dr. Bob Welliver, at OU Medical Center, said Rocky Mountain spotted fever causes a red rash, which clears up after a few days of antibiotic treatment if it is caught early. Welliver treated a child for the disease last summer.
So far in 2013, the state Health Department has reported 20 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and no cases of Lyme disease.
Ticks are a common problem for dogs year-round, but summer months are usually the worst.
There has been a spike in the number of dogs infested with ticks in the past 30 days, veterinarian Jeff Henderson said.
Henderson, who works at Britton Road Veterinary Clinic in north Oklahoma City, said he has treated several dogs for Rocky Mountain spotted fever this summer. Antibiotics are used to treat the disease just like in people.
“A dog came in here just covered in ticks,” Henderson said. The dog was a boxer who had been in a field playing for only a short while.
The heat and humidity is helping the tick population increase, Henderson said.
Lyme disease is rare in dogs, but Rocky Mountain spotted fever is not.
Symptoms in dogs include lethargy, and loss of appetite and interest in normal activities.
A tick has to feed on a dog for five to 24 hours before transmitting a disease, Henderson said, so any tick found on a dog should be removed immediately.
Flea and tick medications applied to the skin help reduce the risk, as do collars. Cats don't get ticks often because they groom themselves, he said.
Dogs can get ticks in Oklahoma year-round, said Paul Schaefer, of Edmond. Schaefer runs the Diagnostic Fluorescence laboratory out of his home. He tests specimens from dogs to determine whether they have been infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne illnesses.
In 2012, Schaefer reported 522 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever to local veterinarians. So far this year, 192 dogs have tested positive.
“The cold weather does not kill ticks,” he said. “Dry weather kills ticks.”