Ticks can be especially harmful pests to wildlife, domestic animals and humans. Their irritating bites cause extreme pain and economic losses in domestic animals and a great deal of discomfort to people who work or play in tick-infested areas. In addition, ticks transmit several disease-causing organisms in animals and humans.
Ticks can cause human ehrlichiosis, tick-induced paralysis, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, also known as tick-borne typhus, is caused by an organism transmitted by the bite of ticks. It is the most serious tick-borne disease in Oklahoma.
Every year Oklahoma ranks as one of the top three states in the number of diagnosed human cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, with between 50 and 100 cases per year. Most cases occur in Oklahoma between April and September, with the peak number of cases in May, June and July. In Oklahoma, the American dog tick is the only proven vector of the disease, and it is most active in the spring and early summer.
Only a few ticks in most areas are infected and can transmit the disease: probably less than 1 in 1,000. Ticks normally transmit the disease-causing organism only when they are attached and feeding. Most scientists believe that they cannot transmit the disease until they have been attached and feeding for several hours: probably at least 24 hours. Frequent inspection and removal of ticks at least twice a day will prevent transmission from occurring. Always record the date of tick removal and save for identification for two weeks; if no illness occurs, then discard the tick.
Lyme disease has become the most common and most rapidly-spreading tick disease in the northern and northeastern United States since 1975. It is also one of the most publicized diseases by the news media and, because of its wide range of symptoms, has become mistakenly thought of as a common disease in Oklahoma. Despite the publicity and the great number of diagnosed cases in other parts of the U.S., Lyme disease does not seem to be very prevalent in Oklahoma. Since 1988, there has been a range of between 13 and 28 cases a year in the state. The most probable carrier of the disease is the nymph stage of the black-legged tick. The larvae and nymph stages normally feed on lizards in Oklahoma, and they seldom feed on humans. This may be the reason there are relatively few cases of Lyme disease in Oklahoma.