If that creeping sensation on your leg causes you concern, there's good reason why it should.

The warmer-than-normal winter has given the South a bumper crop of ticks. The deer tick can be especially dangerous to humans because it can transfer Lyme disease or the potentially deadly Powassan virus.

John Abbott, director of museum research and collections at the University of Alabama, said the four most common ticks in Alabama are the lone star tick, the deer or black-legged tick, the Gulf Coast tick, and the American dog tick. In a paper published by the university, he said the deer tick is most likely to carry Lyme disease and Powassan virus.

"I've already had four ticks on our dog and me this year," said Taylor Reeder of the Lauderdale County Extension Service. "That's four more than I want to see."

Reeder said the most effective way to remove a tick is with tweezers. It's important to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and be sure to remove the head of the tick.

There are a number of things that can be done to keep ticks at bay. Reeder said wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants will help keep ticks off the skin. Tucking pants legs into boots or socks works, as well.

Most experts say spraying clothing with insect repellent that contains DEET is effective, too.

Ticks are commonly found in tall grass and leaf litter, Taylor said. Yards should be kept mowed, and leaf piles should be removed.

A tick carrying Lyme disease must be attached to the body for 24 to 36 hours before the disease is transmitted, Abbot wrote. A tick carrying Powassan, however, can transfer the virus in as little as 15 minutes, he said.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and skin rash. If left untreated, it can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.

Powassan's can cause encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain.

Pets, especially dogs, are prone to tick infestations. Leah Fox, director of the Florence-Lauderdale Animal Shelter, said they have already seen dogs with ticks.

"We are using primarily a topical anti-parasitic treatment," she said. "If we have a dog with an infestation, or even a couple of ticks, we do the treatment. They can get on people, as well, and cause problems."

Robert Palmer may be reached at 256-740-5720, or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com. Follow on Twitter @TD_RobertPalmer.


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