By Kristen Zambo
Posted Jul 2, 2019 at 12:59 PM in Journal Standard
ROCKFORD — More families are venturing outside to frolic in nature as the weather finally turns summery, but they could bring home more than they anticipated.
A bevy of ticks live in grassy and wooded areas throughout the Rock River Valley and wind up hitching rides on people and their pets. If ticks infected with diseases bite you, they could transmit any of a host of illnesses if not caught quickly enough and removed. A program that launched privately last year, I-TICK, or Illinois Tick Inventory Collaboration Network, opened to the public this year and residents are encouraged to help scientists survey the tick population to determine which types are in our communities and what kinds of diseases they could be carrying.
Here are five things to know about ticks and this program.
1. How does I-TICK work?
It’s what’s known as a passive surveillance program to help public health officials gather data about ticks in each county of Illinois. Phillip Alberti, extension educator with the University of Illinois Extension office in Freeport, said it launched last year with educational programming about ticks.
Public health officials would like residents throughout the state to look for and collect any ticks they find, noting precisely where those ticks were found if possible, and then send in those ticks and data. The program is a joint effort between the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine, Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois Department of Public Health and Midwest Center of Excellence.
Andrea Noble, a naturalist and educator at Severson Dells Nature Center outside of Rockford, said there are disease-carrying ticks in this region.
“I know Lyme disease is in the area,” she said.
Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks and once transmitted through bites, a person could develop a bull’s-eye-like rash on the affected body part. Symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, headaches and muscle and joint pains. It can be fatal if left untreated.
“Something to be aware of is the Lone Star tick is moving into the area because of climate change,” Noble said of the ticks typically found in southern climates. “Those are ones you really want to get into vials. They’ve been reported in the area, but are not common yet.”
Females have a white spot in the middle of their bodies and males have a black marbling pattern on their brown bodies with white streaks around the outside of their abdomens. These ticks can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, among other diseases, and an enzyme that can make victims have allergic reactions if they consume red meat.
“Even though that’s not deadly as Lyme’s disease, that perks Americans’ ears a little more,” Noble said.
3. What do you have to do?
Simply pay attention when you’re working or playing outdoors. The official monitoring must occur during a period of five days within any two-week period between now and Dec. 31. Participants then record the location where the tick was acquired during that time, if known.
“Chances are you’ll have a rough idea what county you were in,” Alberti said.
4. How do you collect the ticks?
Noble said after spending time outside, residents should strip down inside and check their bodies for ticks, which are no bigger than a pencil eraser. In the first two to three hours of exposure, the tick on your body won’t have burrowed its head into your skin, she said. Grab it with a tweezers and take it off.
If the head has burrowed in, individuals should use tweezers to grasp it as close to its head as possible and pull it out. Noble said not to burn it or try to flush it away as this might agitate the tick, which could then start biting you. If the head breaks off, “don’t panic,” she said, but you must carefully remove the head.
The bugs and location data must be submitted in special kits. Alberti said there were 42 public hubs by June 13 in Illinois where residents may go to pick up their tick kits. Kits contain sealed vials in which to plop the ticks before submitting one’s findings at a pickup and drop-off hub.
Kits also may be mailed to those locations, he said.
5. Where are the hubs?
In Stephenson and Winnebago counties, hubs are located at Severson Dells Nature Center, 8786 Montague Road; the Winnebago County Health Department, 555 N. Court St., Rockford; the Illinois Department of Natural Resources office in Lena, 8542 N. Lake Road; and the University of Illinois Extension office in Freeport at 2998 W. Pearl City Road, Building R.