Watch out for ticks this summer

Lawton_We're seeing more ticks this season - those yucky bugs that don't let go after they get a hold of you.  They aren't only annoying - they can make you sick.  So far in Oklahoma in 2008, 41 people have been diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - one has died.  Typically, cases of this illness don't begin to show until spring and summer, but this year, cases were seen as early as January.

High grass is the most common place for ticks to live, and the numbers are up this year.  So far, last years flooding is the only explanation.  Ticks thrive in wet weather, and flooding creates the perfect breeding ground.  Ticks don't die during the winter, so that could be the reason why there are more around this summer.  The bloodsuckers can be found just about anywhere - tall grass, trees, and even rocks - and they thrive in wooded areas such as the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

There are ways to keep them at bay, though.  Whether you're hiking or sightseeing - wear light colors, apply plenty of insect repellent - especially near your feet, and wear long sleeves and long pants with the legs tucked in.  Pets also get ticks, so check them regularly.

If, despite all your precautions, you do get bitten, look for the warning signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  At first, it may feel like the flu.  "Headache is real common, and sometimes people will have other things like nausea and abdominal cramps," says Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge Biologist Walter Munsterman.  "The different thing about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever-is like the name says-you get a rash."

Although it's less common, ticks also carry Lyme Disease.  "About 80% of the people get what they call a 'bulls-eye rash' where it starts ringing out about eight centimeters out around it," says Munsterman.

If you do find a tick on you or your pet, be careful when removing it - you'll need to make sure you pull it out by the head with your fingernails or tweezers.  Avoid leaving the head of the tick embedded in your skin, and do not use alcohol or try to burn it which can cause the tick to release fluid into your skin.

Health officials say Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is much more common in Oklahoma than in many other states.  So far, in 2008 in Texas, just six cases have been reported - all in South Texas.