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Bug season came early
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BY EDIE GROSS
No tick is a match for Dr. Minh Tran and his tweezers.
During the last few weeks, the Patient First physician has removed one to three ticks a day from visitors to his Fredericksburg-area clinics.
They often hitch rides on construction workers, landscapers and others who work--and play--outside, he said.
"Believe it or not, I just removed a tick from a 4-year-old patient a few minutes ago," he said Wednesday morning. "She was not real happy."
Who can blame her?
'REALLY PECULIAR TASTES'
The bloodsucking hitchhikers normally show up in late April in these parts, but ticks and other bugs came early this year due to an unseasonably warm winter.
Tran said he's been removing ticks from disgusted patients since March.
"These critters have no wings, no means to fly, but every time you go outdoors, they magically appear on your body," Tran said.
What's worse is they often migrate to places where you're not likely to notice them immediately: on your scalp, upper back or underarms.
"They have really peculiar tastes," he said.
THEY'RE HERE & HUNGRY
It's too early to say whether a longer tick season will result in more reported cases of Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which are transmitted by tick-borne bacteria, said David Gaines, state public health entomologist with the Virginia Department of Health.
But there's another complicating factor this year. The fall acorn crop was flimsy, which means the rodents who depend on those acorns also dropped in numbers, said Gaines.
That might sound like a good thing, but black-legged ticks feed on those rodents. And if the ticks can't find rodents, they may go looking for people, he said.
"They'll be out there, and they'll be hungry," Gaines said. "They're going to bite whatever they can."
Your best bet is to wear closed shoes, long sleeves and pants in wooded areas and to tuck the pant legs into your socks, he said. That way, as ticks travel from your shoes on up, they don't find any exposed skin.
Tran also recommends wearing light-colored clothing so ticks are more visible.
Bug repellent can also help keep ticks at bay. Gaines recommends creams over sprays when it comes to warding off ticks.
A longer bug season doesn't necessarily mean that farmers and gardeners are in for a frustrating summer, said Guy Mussey, an agent in the Virginia Cooperative Extension's Stafford County office, specializing in environmental horticulture.
"Yes, insects and pests will come out earlier but so are their predators, and the good guys as well," he said. "Sort of a balance is going to occur."
Insects that feed on people, like ticks and mosquitos, have a ready food source.
But insects that feed on plants are programmed to emerge when it gets warmer because that's when the crops are ready, he said.
If those bugs come early because of the warmer winter and there's nothing to eat yet, they could starve, driving the numbers down, he said.
"I would not expect things to be any worse this year than any other year," he said.