Feared blacklegged tick a winter hazard in Rappahannock
An Old Hollow resident who suffers from alpha-gal — the red meat allergy caused by a lone star tick bite — was telling the story at Pen Druid Brewery that he looks forward to the first hard freeze every year, when he steps outside his home and dances a lively jig “listening for the ticks to pop.”
If only that was the case.
In reality, certain disease-spreading ticks are not only active during the winter months, they enjoy measurable snowfall.
During the height of the winter, depending on the species, ticks can go dormant, hang around lawns and forests like they do in balmy months, or latch onto a warm host and ride out the cold (female ticks remain attached to their host until March or April, at which time they drop into the ground cover and lay thousands of eggs — upwards of 3,000, to be exact).
That said, all that most ticks need to survive the winter season are decaying leaves. And Rappahannock County is filled with them. Add a nice layer of snow atop the dead foliage and the ticks become even happier, as it serves as an insulation blanket.
But again, that’s only when it’s really frigid outside — and extended cold spells, thanks to global warming, are fewer and far between in Rappahannock County.
Some ticks, like the dreaded blacklegged variety (formerly called the “deer tick”) that harbor Lyme disease, remain active even with temperatures hovering a degree or two above freezing (fortunately, the lone star tick and dog tick are two exceptions, preferring to lay low during the coldest temperatures).
Meanwhile, Rappahannock County continues to be a hot bed for dreaded ticks. A 2015 map of Lyme cases (2016 data is still incomplete) compiled by the Virginia Department of Health reveals that Rappahannock has one of the highest rates of the debilitating disease in the entire state, equaled by only four counties in southwest Virginia.
So yes, even when going outdoors in the winter it’s not a bad idea to apply deet or other tick spray, tuck pant legs into socks, button long-sleeved shirts at the wrists, and upon returning home conduct tick checks on family and pets alike.